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The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos

In January 2020, Steve broke his pelvis while skiing in Bulgaria. What was meant to be a three-week winter-wonderland ski trip turned into twelve weeks of pain and disappointment.

By the time he was healed enough to travel, COVID-19 was becoming a serious concern throughout the world. Instead of returning to the U.S., we decided to go to the place we had planned to be: Budapest, Hungary.

The Hungarian government had declared a state of emergency the day before we arrived. Most of the businesses started closing down just a few days later.

We isolated from the middle of March through the middle of June. During this time, we were able to walk around and enjoy the architecture. That was when I fell in love with the beauty of Budapest.

I am excited to share some of my favorite exterior views of this city with you.

Budapest’s Districts

Budapest is divided into 23 districts. I have organized the photos by district. As a tourist, you are most likely to stay in and explore the following districts:

District 1 – The Castle District  – this is where you will find the Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, and Matthias Church. Traffic is limited to people who live or work there, guests of hotels in the area, taxis, and city buses, making it a great place to stroll.

District V -Belváros, which means Downtown in Hungarian. This district along the Pest side of the Danube River includes the incredible Hungarian Parliament building and St. Stephen’s Basilica.

District VI -Terézvaros – home to the elegant Andrássy Avenue, the Hungarian State Opera House, and upscale stores.

Of course, the other 20 districts also have a lot to offer. I hope you enjoy exploring the beauty of Budapest here and in person.

Here is an article that explains Budapest’s districts well.

Arresting Architecture

It seems odd to have the very first photo be of a modern building, but since I decided to list the photos by district, this is the first. We came across this building while exploring the Buda side of the city.

Modern building with rounded side and a lot of glass
District II, Vérhalom utca 19

The next building is also on the Buda side. Construction cranes are a common sight throughout Budapest.

Large brick and cement building with a round tower
District II, Széll Kálmán tér

This elegant building is the Four Seasons Gresham Palace Hotel. This 100-year-old Art Nouveau building originally contained apartments and offices for the Gresham Life Assurance Company of Great Britain.

The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace in Budapest
District V, Széchenyi István tér 5-6

The Parisi Udvar is a Bell Epoque beauty that was a shopping passage when it opened in 1817. After suffering from neglect, it has been transformed into a 5-star hotel with opulent dining areas.

Ornate angled Art Nouveau building
District V, Petőfi Sándor utca 2-4

I just love the clean look of this large white building next to the Parliament building, which you can see below.

Large white seven-story building
District V, Kossuth Lajos tér

This beauty overlooks Liberty Square.

Large white building with decorative relief as seen at an angle
District V, Szabadság tér

And this building is part of the Nyugati Railway Station. There is a similar building which is also part of the railway station and houses a McDonalds.

Brick building with curved grey roof
District VI, Podmaniczky utca 22

One of the many impressive houses on Andrássy Avenue. This elegant street runs from Elisabeth Square to City Park. The Neo-renaissance mansions (many of which are now embassies) and high-end stores make for a lovely stroll.

A three-story pure white building with wrought iron decorations
District VI, Andrássy utca 124-132

The neo-gothic Stern House.

Ornate brown and yellow 4-story building
District VIII, Rákóczi utca 7

This frilly confection is the Vígszínház, the Comedy Theatre of Budapest.

Fancy yellow theatre building with black wrought iron details
District XIII, Szent István korut 14
Fabulous Facades

Here are two buildings that I never tire of seeing. They are at the foot of the Elisabeth Bridge on the Pest side.

Two attached 5-story tan buildings
District V, Váci utca at the foot of the Elisabeth Bridge on the Pest side

The Vigadó Concert Hall sits near the bank of the Danube River on the Pest side.

Large tan building with tall arched windows
Distrcit V, Belgrád rakpart

Like the two joined buildings above, these are at the foot of the Elisabeth Bridge on the Pest side of the city.

Two attached 5-story buildings
District V, Váci utca at the foot of the Elisabeth Bridge on the Pest side

You can’t go wrong with a pretty pink house.

Pink building with off white decoration
District VI, Lendvay utca 1

This bright, recently restored building is on a side street. Well worth the detour.

Bright yellow building with ornate white decorations
District VI, Aradi utca 30

The Anantara New York Palace Budapest Hotel. It was built in 1894 as an office for the New York Life Insurance Company. In 2006 it became a luxury hotel. The ground floor houses the New York Cafe, as elegant today as it was over a century ago.

Front of the Anantara New York Palace Budapest Hotel
District VII, erzsébet körút 8

This lovely gem flanks the pond in City Park. It appears to have restaurants and shops, but they have been closed during the pandemic.

Large white building next to a pond
District XIV, Vázsonyi Vilmos sétány
Incredible Icons

This is just part of the fairy-tale-like Fisherman’s Bastion. Interestingly, it was never intended to be used for defense. It was built between 1895 and 1902 as part of a campaign to construct several buildings in celebration of the 1,000th birthday of the Hungarian State. The bastion is on the Buda side of the Danube River.

Castle-like section of Fisherman’s Bastion
District I, Szentháromság tér 5

The Church of the Assumption of the Buda Castle (or the Matthias Church) is adjacent to Fisherman’s Bastion. The original church was built in 1,015. The current building was built in the 14th century and extensively restored in the 19th century.  Be sure to take a guided tour of the tower.

A church viewed from an arched stairway
District I, Szentháromság tér 2

Buda Castle sits on Castle Hill overlooking the Danube River on the Buda side of the city. As you can imagine, the castle has a long and complex history. It was destroyed in WWII and rebuilt during the 1950s and 60s. Unfortunately, the work was not done well. The castle is now undergoing restoration to bring it back to its pre-WWII splendor.

Buda castle at night as seen from Pest
District I, Sikló utca

This sprawling neo-Gothic beauty is the Hungarian Parliament Building. It sits on the bank of the Danube River on the Pest side of the city.

The Hungarian Parliament Building as seen from Buda
District V, Kossuth Lajos tér 1-3

St.Stephen’s Basilica is a Roman Catholic basilica named in honor of the first king of Hungary.

St. Stephen’s Basilica at dusk
District V, Szent István tér 1

Even though it is covered up while being renovated, I had to include the Hungarian State Opera House. We were able to have an abbreviated tour of the inside in the summer. It was magnificent.

The Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest
District VI, Andrássy utca 22

The Dohány Street Synagogue is the largest synagogue in Europe and the third-largest in the world. The Moorish Revival building is more than 160 years old.

Front entrance of a synagogue
District VII, Dohány utca 2

The Keleti Railway Station (translates to East Railway Station) is a hub for local and long-distance trains and buses.

The majestic Keleti Palyaudvar
District VIII, Kerepesi utca 2-4

The Great Market Hall, also called the Central Market Hall, is a great place to admire architecture while shopping for food and souvenirs. Interestingly, there is a supermarket on the lower level.

Central market hall on a fall day
District IX, Vámház krt. 1-3

This massive building is the Széchenyi Thermal Bath. Part of the building is painted a bright yellow, as you can see at the photo’s sides.

View of the Széchenyi Baths in Budapest’s City Park
District XIV, City Park

This is one part of the Vajdahunyad Castle. The entire castle features several architectural styles that celebrate the history of Hungary. Like Fisherman’s Bastion, this castle was built for the Millennial Exhibition in 1896.

The castle was initially built of wood and cardboard because it was not intended to be permanent. It proved to be so popular that it was rebuilt as a permanent structure that now houses the Hungarian Agricultural Museum.

Learn more about the history of Vajdahunyad Castle.

A castle-like building reflected in a pond
District XIV, Vajdahunyad stny. City Park
Delightful Details

Part of the tiled roof of the Matthias Church. Many buildings in the city have patterned roofs.

Close up of the decorative roof tiles on the Matthias Church in Budapest
District I, Szentháromság tér 2

This 120-year-old four-story building is called the Severa House. It was originally the home of an Italian salami maker named Károly Szevera.

Four mosaics that represent the four seasons are on the top floor.

Top of ornate building with four mosaic panels representing the four seasons
District V, Károly körút 14.

These are just three of the many busts on the Parisi Udvar building.

Bust of a woman and two men on the Parisi Udvar building
District V, Petőfi Sándor u. 2-4

This cute relief is one of eight different ones on a building on Vaci street.

Plaque with one child blowing a horn at another child
District V, Váci utca 66

It is not unusual to see statues in niches on the exteriors of buildings. This building features statues of several Hungarian leaders.

Exterior of building with three statues
District V, Cukor utca 7

This is detail on a porcelain Herend statue that stands in Jozsef Nador Square. Every time I see it, I marvel at how it has remained undamaged.

One of the things that impressed me the most about Budapest is the respect the citizens have for their city. The streets are the cleanest we’ve seen in any city so far, and public transportation is free of graffiti and trash.

Two colorful bird sitting on branches on a Herend porcelain statue
District V, Jozsef Nador Square

Here is another relief. This one is just too cute.

Plaque of a small boy reading to two large dogs
District VI, Dalszínház utca 9

These mosaics are on the top story of a three-story building.

Front of white building with Egyptian style decorations
District VI, Bajza utca 42-44

These beautiful corbels are on the elegant Andrássy Avenue.

Ornate brackets on a building on Andrássy utca in Budapest
District VI, Andrássy utca 4-6

These are two of the light-holding fauns that decorate the Anantara New York Palace Budapest Hotel.

Two winged fugures holding lights
District VII, Dohány utca 53

More reliefs. These are on the side of a building that houses a large drug and toiletries store.

Reliefs on a building
District IX, Tompa utca 5-9
Faded Beauty

As we’ve been exploring Budapest, we have been amazed at the large number of cranes and buildings being refurbished. We have remarked that we need to revisit the city in about five years to see all the improvements after they are finished.

While not as beautiful as the buildings above, the four buildings below cannot hide their elegance. Let’s hope they get the facelifts they deserve.

Even in disrepair, this building remains impressive.

Five-story building with fancy roof
District V, Deák Ferenc tér

This is the Drescher Palace. It stands across from the Hungarian State Opera House on Andrássy Avenue. Its history includes a three-story cafe, apartments, and serving as a ballet institute. It was supposed to become a W Hotel, but it appears that those plans fell by the wayside.

Large brown palace-like building in disrepair
District VI, Andrássy utca

I love seeing the difference between the restored section of this building and the part that is still waiting for love.

Large corner building with one half restored
District VI, Andrássy utca

This building is at the corner of the street we are currently staying on. If you look closely, you can see straps holding the statues on.

Old biuilding with statues
District IX, Mester utca and Páva utca
Beautiful Bridges

There are main seven bridges that connect the two sides of Budapest (in order from north to south):

Árpád Bridge
Margaret Bridge
Széchenyi Chain Bridge
Elisabeth Bridge
Liberty Bridge
Petőfi Bridge

Below you will see photos of the four most picturesque of these bridges.

The Margaret Bridge not only connects Buda and Pest but also connects both sides of the city to Margaret Island. It is the second oldest bridge in Budapest.

You can spend hours exploring Margaret Island. I highly recommend it.

A yellow bridge spanning the Danube River
The Margaret Bridge

Here is one of the pillars on the Margaret Bridge.

Marble pillar with metal ornaments and lights
District XIII, Margaret Bridge (Margit híd)

The oldest and most famous bridge in Budapest is the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. It is commonly known as the Chain Bridge.

The Chain Bridge as seen from the Buda side of Budapest
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge

Two lions guard the Chain Bridge at each end. A cool trivia fact is that the lions don’t have tongues.

The bridge was closed to traffic on a Saturday night in the summer.

The Chain Bridge at night
The Chain Bridge

This modern bridge is the Elisabeth Bridge (named after a beloved Hungarian queen).

The Elisabeth Bridge as seen from the Buda side of Budapest
The Elisabeth Bridge

The Liberty Bridge as viewed from the Pest side:

The Liberty Bridge as seen from the Buda side of Budapest
The Liberty Bridge

And detail on the Liberty Bridge:

Detail of the Liberty Bridge
Liberty Bridge Detail

The five bridges that existed in Budapest before WWII, including the four above, were all destroyed by retreating German troops in 1945. All were rebuilt. The Elisabeth Bridge was the only one not rebuilt to resemble the original.

You can see historic and current photos of the bridges and the city after the WWII bombings here.

Closing

These are just a few of the thousands of remarkable sights you can see as you explore Budapest. For a taste of the offbeat check out The Funky Side of Budapest. And for even more ways to enjoy the city read 20 Quick and Cool Things to See and Do in Budapest.

September 2021 Recap: Castles, Caves, Baths and the Beatles

Pandemic Update

One and a half years into this pandemic, and it’s still wreaking havoc with lives. Like everyone else, Steve and I can’t wait for our lives to return to normal. Still, we respect how dangerous Covid is and how it is overwhelming healthcare systems, so we will continue to be cautious as long as necessary.

Early in the month, Steve and I talked about how the number of Covid cases was low in Hungary, and maybe it was time to venture into nearby countries. We considered a trip to Vienna, Austria but discovered that their Covid numbers were higher than Hungary’s. So we now have a new travel rule: don’t go to places with higher rates of active Covid cases than the place you are. So we will limit our travel to Hungarian towns for now.

At the start of September, there were less than 200 new cases per day. By month-end, that number has tripled.

Gellert Spa and Bath 

Our love affair with thermal baths continues.

Hotel Gellért has graced the bank of the Danube River in Budapest with its Art Nouveau elegance for over 100 years. It is on the Buda side of the city at the foot of the Liberty Bridge.

The hotel is connected to the Gellért Spa, a well-known Budapest attraction. You can visit the spa even if you aren’t a guest at the hotel. I had read some reviews that said that the baths need renovation. Despite those reviews, I wanted to visit it to see the décor, so Steve and I checked it out. I was not disappointed. 

Yes, things could have been better. The fountains were empty, and the wave machine was not working. Mineral deposits hung from the statues in the thermal pools, and a few statues were missing. Even so, you can’t deny its glamour.

According to this article by CGTN, the spa was slated for renovation, but the loss of revenues because of the pandemic has put that in question.

The main outside attraction is the wave pool, which is currently being used as a swimming pool. It is surrounded by decorative tiles, statues, and plants and overlooked by a large terrace. Chaise lounges fill the multi-level patio. There is also a rather boring-looking thermal bath too, as well as a Finnish sauna and tub.

The wave pool at the Gellert Spa in Budapest

The Gellért Spa wave pool and patio

The grandeur continues inside with a swimming pool and several thermal baths. A steam room, massages, beauty treatments, and medical spa services are available.

I loved the balcony with lounge chairs and a retractable roof overlooking the indoor pool. For someone who loves to read by a pool and does not want too much sun, this was perfect.

The indoor swimming pool at the Gellert Spa

The indoor pool and balconies

Return to Aquaworld

Steve and I enjoyed our July visit to Aquaworld Resort Budapest so much we decided to make another three-night visit. Since school has resumed in Hungary, it was less crowded than last time.

Even though there were fewer people, there were a lot of families with small children. The complex is large enough that you can always find a quiet place, but the overtired kids made for some noisy meal times. Since it is a resort with a waterpark, that is to be expected.

We hung out in the pools and thermal baths until we were waterlogged, drying off only to eat and sleep. Breakfast and dinner were included, and the food was fabulous.

Indoor lap pool and hanging bridge at Aquaworld Resort Budapest

The indoor lap pool and hanging bridge at Aquaworld at closing time

We love this place so much we are going back for our third visit in mid-October. You can read more about Aquaworld in our post “3 Carefree Days at Aquaworld Budapest.”

The Case of the Frustrating Waiter

On our first night, our waiter had a hard time understanding what we wanted to drink, partly because of the language and partly because he was hard of hearing. We finally got it sorted out. Thankfully we only had to place a drink order.

The next night, we chose a table in a different section. Low and behold, here comes the same waiter. This night, I felt like wine, so I asked for a glass of merlot. Our waiter said, “merlot isn’t good,” and suggested pinot noir. I agreed to give it a try. 

The pinot noir wasn’t bad, but I preferred merlot, so when I was ready for a second glass, I asked for merlot. 

The waiter said, “Pinot noir?” 

I said, “No, merlot.”

He said, “Pinot noir,” and nodded his head.

I said, “No, merlot,” a little more forcefully.

He looked at me a said, “Merlot?”

I nodded my head in agreement. Phew, I was glad that was over.

When he returned with my wine, he put it down and proudly stated, “Pinot noir.”

I shook my head and said, “No, merlot.” 

He went off to replace it.

I’ve never worked so hard to get what I wanted in a restaurant.

A Visit to Northeast Hungary

Steve and I talked about visiting some Hungarian towns east of Budapest for a while but never seemed to pull it all together. We finally got down to it and planned a trip to the towns of Eger and Lillafüred.

Our first stop was three nights in Eger. We explored a 13th-century castle, toured the Archbishop’s Palace and Cellars (caves that had been a wine cellar), and visited a Beatles museum.

We also headed over to nearby Egerszalók to see the Sodomb, a large limestone hill, and spend time in yet another bath.

Four photos of Eger and Egerszalok

A luxury hotel, the Beatles, a castle view, and a spa day

You can read all about the attractions in these two towns in “Eger and Egerszalók: A Great Hungarian Getaway.

Off to the Palace

For more than a year, I have been intrigued by the Hotel Palota in Lillafüred.

Hotel Palota at night

Hotel Palota at night

The hotel is in a valley in the Bükk Mountains. There are several caves and many hiking trails to explore there.

Hotel Palota was built in 1930. From then until World War II, it was enjoyed by members of high society. During the war, it was occupied by German soldiers and also served as a hospital for Russian soldiers.

After the war, the hotel was again used as intended. For much of this time, it was managed by the National Council of Trade Unions. You needed a special voucher to stay at the hotel.

In 1993, the hotel was acquired by the Hunguest chain, which refurbished and modernized it. It is on the Register of Hungaricums as a valuable national treasure.

Four photos of Hotel Palota

Views of the hotel

Exploring Caves

We toured two limestone caves near Hotel Palota. The first was Anna Cave. This cave has several plant fossils. The tour lasted about 40 minutes and was in Hungarian. Our guide got a lot of laughs while Steve and I stood there looking lost.

The second cave was the Szent István Cave. This tour was a little shorter and also in Hungarian. This guide did not get any laughs. Despite not understanding what was being said, Steve and I got some cool photos.

If you can only see one cave, I recommend Szent István. It has more interesting formations, which you can see in these photos:

Four photos of limestone cave formations

Formations in Szent István cave

Miskolctapolca Cave Bath

The town of Miskolctapolca is one and a half hours from Lillafüred. Its claim to fame is the cave baths. In the Miskolctapolca Cave Bath, you can swim through caves in 86 degrees F (30 degrees C) spring water.

Entrance to the cave bath

Into the cave

Inside the cave bath

Inside the cave bath

Steve and I did not want to miss this, but we were a little disappointed. Because sound carries in the caves, and all the kids had to take advantage of that, it was noisy. Another issue was that the more secluded pools seemed to attract a lot of couples who thought because the lights were low, they had privacy. I’m not talking about teenagers who couldn’t keep their hands off each other. There were several middle-aged couples who were getting a little friendlier than is appropriate in public.

Despite this, I am glad we got to experience the cave bath.

This Month’s Media

Inferno is one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read. Not because of the plot, which is standard thriller, but because author Dan Brown does three things very well: 1. he brings places to life. A lot of this story takes place in Florence, Italy. His descriptions of that city’s sights make me anxious to see them. 2. he incorporates art, in this case, Dante’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy. 3. he ties in religious and social issues that make you think.

In Inferno, the primary social issue is overpopulation. How many people can the Earth support, and what happens when we grossly exceed that number? The mad scientist’s solution was one I would never have thought of.

At the beginning of the book Brown states that “all artwork, literature, science, and historical references in this novel are real.” That statement has been challenged by several people, including Noah Charney in his article “Fact-Checking Dan Brown’s ‘Inferno’: 10 Mistakes, False Statements, and Oversimplifications” in the Daily Beast and Ricki Lewis, PhD in her article “Dan Brown’s Inferno”: Good Plot, Bad Science” in DNA Science (spoiler alert).

It would be great if Dan Brown got all his facts straight, but despite these hiccups, I still enjoy everything his novels offer.

A few months ago Steve and I watched Unorthodox on Netflix and enjoyed it a lot. This month, I decided to check out the book on which it was based. In her book Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots author Deborah Feldman delves deep into the life of the Satmar Jews. She isn’t afraid to talk about the darker side of this secluded sect.

I enjoyed the book but was surprised when it ended without any details about how she left the Hasidic life or what she has done since. It was one of the few times I thought the show was better than the book.

Until Next Time

Steve and I would love to hear what you’ve been up to and if travel has made its way back into your life.

Stay safe,

Linda

Featured photo – detail of a window in Hotel Palota

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Eger and Egerszalók: A Great Hungarian Getaway

If you are looking for a fun getaway in Hungary, consider Eger. It is the largest town in the Eger wine region and only 84 miles (135 km) from Budapest. It can easily be reached by car or train.

A visit to Eger will reward you with beautiful views, Baroque architecture, and a valley dedicated to wine. You can also visit one of the five Beatles museums in the world!

Steve and I couldn’t wait to visit Eger. In addition to seeing new Hungarian sights, we were looking forward to spending a few nights in the Oval Suite at the Erla Villa hotel. 

An elegant bathroom in the Erla Villa in Eger, Hungary

Our bathroom – can’t you feel the luxury?

In between oohing and aahing over the scrumptious décor and grounds of the hotel, we managed to see several Eger attractions. We hopped over to nearby Egerszalók to see the salt hill and the Saliris Resort. 

Here is our take on the Eger and Egerszalók sights.

What We Did In Eger

Eger Castle

Eger Castle is one of the most popular attractions in Eger. The castle dates back to the 13th century and is best known for the Siege of Eger (1552), during which the Hungarian defenders repelled a Turkish army that outnumbered them by more than 15 to 1.

Walls of Eger Castle with the city of Eger below

Some of the castle walls with the city of Eger below

While there, you can visit several indoor exhibits, including one about the castle’s history. It covers several rooms, is well done, and includes English translations. When we visited, there was a temporary weapons exhibit that I enjoyed because there were several hands-on artifacts, and the explanations (in Hungarian and English) were concise and informative. 

Photos of four artifacts in the Eger Castle

From left to right: 16th-century Hungarian field officer uniform, 16-17th-century fist shield made of tortoise shell, prayer book (no date), 19th-century Persian helmet

Ergi Road Beatles Museum

Who would expect to find a Beatles Museum in a small city in Hungary? The Egri Road Beatles Museum has a collection of over 2,500 items.

Four photos of Beatles memorabilia

Just a few of the many items in the museum – who knew there were Beatles cuff links?

One of the coolest things was being led into a cave to see a short film about the Beatles’ early lives. 

Four photos of a cave in the Beatles Museum in Eger, Hungary

The totally cool cave with photos of musicians who inspired the Beatles

There is also a month-by-month history of the group from their discovery through their breakup. It is in Hungarian and English.

This museum is sure to bring back many memories for baby boomers, but any music fan is sure to get something out of it. You could say we loved it, yeah, yeah, yeah!

Archbishop’s Palace and Cellars

The palace has been the home of the Archbishop of Eger (Roman Catholic) since 1740. There is a museum of religious artifacts on two floors of the palace.

A room in the Archbishop’s Palace museum

A sitting room display in the museum

Detail of the painting Memento mori circa 1750

Detail of the painting Memento mori by Lukács Huetter circa 1750

The cellars are caves used to store wine until the mid-1900s, when the fear of collapse led to many of them being lined with cement. That meant the temperature and humidity were no longer suitable for storing wine.

Eger is one of Hungary’s twenty-two wine regions. Every year there is a contest in which the Archbishop chooses the wine served during communion for the coming year. 

Learn more about Hungarian wines in this article from Wine Folly.

You can tour the caves with a guide. David was our guide, and he did a great job. The tour includes a display of the wines chosen as the best of the year and a taste of the Archbishop’s favorite. Of course, I took a bottle home.

Here is information on the palace.

Sodomb and Solaris Resort in Egerszalók

Egerszalók is a small village only a half-hour away from Eger by bus. It is known for the Sodomb (salt hill) and the Saliris Resort Spa and Conference Hotel. 

Sodomb (Salt Hill) in Egerszalok, Hungary

The Salt Hill

The hill was created by a buildup of limestone deposits from the 150 degrees F (65 degrees C) spring water. You can enjoy the mineral-rich waters at The Saliris Resort, either as an overnight guest or during a daytime visit. 

The Saliris Resort Spa and Conference Hotel

The limestone terraces overlooking the Saliris Resort (or is it the other way around?)

The Saliris Spa has 17 pools. You can see the outdoor ones in the photo above. The inside pools are fun to explore since they are terraced and have several cave-like areas. The spa also has saunas and a steam room. There is a cute section for kids, too.

Read about our favorite Hungarian bath experience in 3 Carefree Days at Aquaworld Budapest.

A sign for a winery and guest house in Egerszalok, Hungary

Just for fun – the sign for the Helli Borozo Winery and Guest House in Egerszalók

More Things to See in Eger

Since we only spent two full days in Eger, there are several things we did not see, so I think we need to go back. Here are some of the other Eger attractions:

The Minaret

This is the only surviving minaret of the ten built in Eger by the Ottomans during the 17th century. It is also the northernmost minaret in Europe.

You can climb the narrow spiral staircase to get a birds-eye view of Eger. We did not since I was dealing with a sore hip. If you don’t make it up the minaret, don’t despair. You can get great views of the city from Eger castle.

The minaret is 131 feet tall (40 meters) and has 98 steps.

The minaret in Eger Hungary

The minaret, as seen from Eger Castle

The Valley of the Beautiful Women

This valley is home to dozens of wine cellars side by side. You can visit many of them to sample the local wine and have a traditional Hungarian meal. We did not make it there on this trip. Again, another reason to go back.

Kopcsik Marcipánia Bell Foundry House (Marzipan Museum)

This small museum showcases the creations of master confectioner Lajos Kopcsik. From the photos, it looks similar to the one we visited in Szentendre, Hungary. However, this one has an entire Baroque room made of marzipan! 

Michael Jackson made of marzipan

Our visit to the Szamos Marcipán Múzeum in Szentendre showed us that you can make anything out of marzipan, even Michael Jackson

Since we didn’t visit the Eger museum, we don’t have any photos, but you can get an idea of what you can see there on their website.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Apostle

If you love beautiful buildings as much as Steve and I do, you would want to swing by the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Apostle in Eger. The basilica is currently undergoing renovation, but according to this article, you can still visit it. The work is expected to be completed in the fall of 2022.

Eger Thermal Bath

This being Hungary, no city would be complete without at least one thermal bath. In Eger, you have the Eger Thermal Bath

The bath has 13 pools, 9 of which are open year-round.

Beautiful Buildings

As in all the Hungarian cities we’ve visited, there is no shortage of architecture waiting to be admired.

Green building on Dobo Istvan utca in Eger

The dismal day did not detract from this building’s beauty (on Dobó István Square)

Church of Anthony of Padua in Eger, Hungary

The Church of Anthony of Padua (Minorite Church) – a Franciscan church also on Dobó István Square

Where We Stayed – The Erla Villa Hotel

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Steve and I were excited to spend several nights in the most luxurious hotel room we’ve ever had. Up until now, we’ve always booked a basic room, unwilling to cough up more money for a fancy room when the chips were down. But I fell in love with the Oval Suite when I saw it on the Erla Villa website. Even better, three nights with half board (breakfast and dinner) was only a little over $600.

The room turned out to be as stunning as the photos, and the food was fantastic.

Four photos of the inside of the Erla Villa in Eger, Hungary
Five photos of food at the Erla Villa

There were a few things that could have been better. For example, breakfast wasn’t served until 8 o’clock, and there wasn’t any place to get coffee before then. That is a mild form of torture for us early risers. When I finally got my coffee, it was superb.

Also, the shower curtain didn’t go all the way across the opening, so no matter how careful you were, the floor in front of the shower got flooded.

Despite a few little things that could be improved, I would recommend this hotel, not only for the ambiance but also for the food (and coffee).

Until Next Time

Have you been to Eger or Egerszalók? What did you think? What was your favorite sight?

Happy traveling,

Linda

Featured photo by Adonis Villanueva on Pixabay.com

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August 2021 Recap: Budapest Baths and Hungarian Town Attractions

Can you believe August is over? I don’t know about you, but for me, time is flying. Steve and I have done more this month than in any of the previous sixteen months we’ve been in Hungary.

We spent many hours luxuriating in the Budapest baths. We also revisited the zoo and explored three nearby towns. These are the highlights.

All money is in U.S. Dollars unless otherwise stated.
Pandemic Update

New Covid cases in Hungary have remained low all summer. Right now, there are less than 200 new cases per day. But that doesn’t mean we are out of the woods. The Hungarian government is prepared to take steps to protect people in the country if the Delta variant takes off here. Steve and I try to be positive, but we expect a fourth wave.

Splish Splash We’ve Been Lovin’ the Baths
Palatinus Strand

The Palatinus Strand is like your neighborhood pool if your neighborhood pool had ten outdoor pools of varying temperatures, an indoor thermal bath, water slides, and a wave pool. 

Four photos of the Palatinus Strand in Budapest

There are also two saunas and a steam room. You can get a massage for an additional fee. As of this writing, a 45-minute massage costs $22.

Palatinus Strand is popular with families, partly because it is more affordable than the well-known Szechenyi and Gellert Baths. It costs about $10 to visit Palatinus, compared to $18 to visit the Szechenyi or Gellert Baths.

Szechenyi Baths

A visit to the Szechenyi Baths doesn’t come cheap, but it is worth it. These baths are one of the largest spa complexes in Europe. You can see the century-old Neo-Baroque building in the featured photo above.

You can bask in the elegant setting while enjoying three outdoor or fifteen indoor pools. Water temperature ranges from 65 to 104 degrees F (18 to 40 degrees C). There are also three saunas and three steam rooms. Massages are available for an additional fee. As of this writing, a 45-minute massage costs $32.

Two inside pools at the Szechenyi Baths in Budapest

Two of the indoor pools at the Szechenyi Baths

When you visit the baths there is none of that heavy chlorine smell I associate with swimming pools, especially indoor ones. I wondered why. I found the answer here.

For thermal pools the water comes from natural hot springs. It is filtered and the water is replaced every day. No chemicals are added to the thermal pools.

The other pools are treated with a minimum amount of chlorine and salt.

Three Side Trips
Hévíz

We’ve been taking advantage of the low number of Covid cases to see parts of Hungary outside of Budapest. In August, we visited three Western Hungarian towns. The first was the spa town of Hévíz, located 120 miles (193 km) southwest of Budapest. 

People go to Hévíz to bathe in thermal Lake Heviz. Even though it is the largest thermal lake in the world suitable for swimming, it is not very big. The lake covers about 11 acres (4.4 hectares).

People floating in Lake Heviz

You can swim in the lake, but most people float on pool noodles

The lake is fed by mineral-rich water that has curative properties. It is recommended for people suffering from rheumatic diseases and locomotor disorders. The lake is around 95 degrees F (35 C) in the summer and 75 degrees F (24 C) in the winter. The water in the lake is replaced every 72 hours.

We stayed at Ensana Thermal Hévíz for two nights, where we enjoyed the three indoor and two outdoor pools. The water temperatures ranging from 82 to 100 degrees F  (28 to 38 degrees C).

Veszprém

Veszprém is a small city 75 miles (120 km) southwest of Budapest. It is easy to reach by train or bus.

The main reason we visited Veszprém was to see the Herend Porcelain Museum in the nearby town of Herend. The visit included a factory tour, and after seeing the work that goes into their products, I understand why they are so costly. Each piece is hand-painted.

Large Herend urn

This piece costs more than $35,000.

There were plenty of English translations and QR codes. Tours are available in English. Ours was very well done.

As is common in small towns and cities, there isn’t a lot to do in Veszprém. Even so, we enjoyed climbing the hill to the castle district and searching for the three Kolodko mini-statues that call Veszprém home.

Three Kolodko mini-statues in Veszprém, Hungary

  Ödön, The Street Musician, Ernő, The Guard, and Leonora, The Girl and The Lion

The creator of these sculptures is Mikhail Kolodko. He has several in Ukraine and Hungary including about twenty in Budapest. You can see some of them in ”The Funky Side of Budapest.”

Four photo collage of Veszprem, Hungary

A few random photos of Veszprém

Székesfehérvár

Next, we headed to Székesfehérvár, which is 40 miles (65 km) southwest of Budapest. Again we had a specific sight in mind. We wanted to visit Bory Castle. We loved it.

Bory Castle was the home of architect and sculptor Jenő Bory and his family. The one-acre lot only contained a wine vault and press house when Bory purchased it in 1912. From 1923 to 1959, he added to the castle, designing as he built. He did most of the work himself.

Bory Castle

Bory Castle

The castle is filled with paintings and sculptures, many created by Bory and some by his wife.

You can easily spend a few hours there discovering delightful touches and enjoying different perspectives. You can climb towers and visit areas with romantic names like the Elephant Garden and the Hundred Pillared Courtyard. Every time I see a place like this, I imagine what it would be like to grow up there.

Here are more photos from Bory Castle. Click on the photos to see the captions.

We also spent some time in the Árpád Bath while in Székesfehérvár.

Lounge area in the Arpad Baths, Szekesfehervar, Hungary

One of the lounging areas in the Árpád Baths

We didn’t enjoy this as much as the Budapest baths because all the pools except the cold plunge pool were the same temperature. And none were really hot.

The bath has several saunas and a steam bath. There is also a tepidarium, which is a room in which you sit or lay on warm ceramic tiles. 

After the baths we headed to the Hetedhét Toy Museum. It is full of toys from the 18th and 19th centuries, with an emphasis on dolls and dollhouses.

Paper dolls and doll dresses

Drawers under the displays pull out to reveal more dolly delights

The museum’s website doesn’t translate into English, but they provide translations on all the exhibits.

As you can imagine, Steve didn’t love this, but he was patient while I explored. I’m not a doll-lover, but I figured as long as I was there, I might as well enjoy it. Besides, it was cold and rainy outside.

A Cool Day At The Zoo

It has been a hot summer, but once in a while, we get a cool day. We took advantage of one early in the month to make our third visit to the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden. It is located in the city and is easy to get to. This zoo is not large at only 44 acres (18 hectares), but there is a lot to see. There are over 10,000 animals from over 1,000 species. 

A prairie dog at the Budapest Zoo

We enjoyed watching this cute prairie dog.

Each time we go to the zoo, we discover something new. On this visit, it was the bat cave.

A bat at the Budapest Zoo

Most bats were chillin’, a few were flying!

This Month’s Media

There were no new Wind and Whim posts this month. Instead I spent time updating my first blog post. You can read about the “12 Trustworthy Travel Services and Apps” we use and recommend. 

I am also working on improving my site’s visibility. It isn’t easy to get traction for a blog on a saturated topic like travel. Add the fact the travel has been restricted because of the pandemic, and you can understand the challenge.

I am reading William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well. My first takeaway was simplify, simplify, simplify. Just like being a Toastmaster has made me critical of the speech patterns of public speakers, this book threatens to turn me off to many novels and blogs. I’ve already stopped reading some after a few pages because they had too much fluff.

One book I enjoyed was The Island by Victoria Hislop. It is a historical novel set on the Greek island of Crete. The story is about a young woman who travels to a small Cretan town to learn about her mother’s past. She learns about a leper colony on a small island off Crete called Spinalonga and her family’s connection to it.

Spinalonga served as a leper colony from 1903 to 1957. People with leprosy, including children, were sent to the island. They could not have in-person contact with their families. The people who were banished to the island developed a society with shops, entertainment, a school, and a government.

I first heard about Spinalonga and The Island in this post from My Path In The World.

Until Next Time

Wow, I get tired just reading about everything we did in August, and I didn’t even include our hikes. I hope you enjoyed August too. Steve and I would love to hear what you’ve been up to.

Stay safe and healthy,

Linda

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July 2021 Recap: Living Life Again

It’s been a long haul for all of us, and it isn’t over yet, but at least life has begun to return to normal. After almost eight months of lockdowns and slowdowns, we are living life again. I hope you are also returning to your pre-pandemic life. Here is what we’ve been doing this month.

We Keep Getting More Legal

Steve and I got vaccinated in June, and began July waiting for our immunity cards to arrive. We weren’t surprised when the immunity card restrictions were lifted before we received our cards. 

Nonetheless, we now have them in case we need them in the future, and having them allowed us to get our EU Digital COVID Certificate. This certificate was the one government-related item that we got on the spot. No daily disappointment at the mailbox.

What We’ve Been Doing

The heatwaves of June followed us into July with many daily highs in the 90s F (30s C). The average high in July is 82 degrees F (28 C). We found two ways to beat the heat: museums and water parks.

Museums Galore

Steve and I hit the local museums hard this month with visits to three history museums: the Hungarian National Museum (Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum), the Budapest History Museum (Budapesti Történeti Múzeum), and the Military History Museum (Hadtorteneti Muzeum).

The Hungarian National Museum follows the country’s history from prehistoric times to the present. We were impressed with the number of artifacts. The museum has several million pieces in its collection. 

Be sure to take time to appreciate the buidling’s beauty, too.

Hallway in the Hungarian National Museum

The stairway in the Hungarian National Museum

The Budapest History Museum focuses on the history of Hungary’s capital city. The museum is much smaller that the Hungarian National Museum, but if you have time it is worth checking out. I particularly liked that there are hands-on activities for children placed throughout the 2nd floor exhibits.

The Budapest History Museum is also called the Castle Museum because it is in Buda Castle.

Two street signs in the Budapest History Museum

Soviet era street signs in the Budapest History Museum

We also paid a second visit to the Military History Museum. When we visited it last year I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. This is a comprehensive look at Hungary’s military and wartime history.

A room in the Military History Museum in Budapest

One of the many rooms in the Military History Museum

All three museums do a great job of providing English translations.

As we spend time in museums, I think about how I appreciate history much more as an adult than I did growing up. Being able to experience the places where events happened makes it even more meaningful.

We Finally Toured Parliament

The Hungarian Parliament Building is one of the most well-known in Budapest, but until now we have only been able to enjoy the outside. Tours finally resumed, and we jumped at the opportunity. The tour lasts less than an hour, but you will see plenty in that time. After the tour, there are several exhibits to explore on your own. You can check out the parliament tour information here.

The Grand Stairway in the Hungarian Parliament Building

The Grand Stairway in the Hungarian Parliament Building

Thermal Water Fun

Hungary may be landlocked, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of water-based activities. Hungary has 1,300 thermal springs and hundreds of spas that take advantage of this natural phenomenon. You can learn more in the National Geographic article Hungary:the land of thermal spas.

We spent three nights at Aquaworld Resort Budapest on the outskirts of the city and loved it. You can read about it here

Indoor pool at Aquaworld Budapest

A few of the bathing options at Aquaworld

We also spent a hot afternoon at Palatinus Strand, a thermal bath and swimming complex on nearby Margaret Island.

Pools at Palatinus Strand, Budapest

Two of the many pools at Palatinus Strand on a cloudy day

Now that we’ve discovered how much we enjoy the thermal baths, which can be used year-round, we plan to visit several more in Budapest and in other cities in Hungary.

4th of July Brunch at The Four Seasons

We continue to eat our way around Budapest. We paid our first visit to Kollazs Brasserie & Bar in the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace. For two and a half hours, we enjoyed a five-course brunch. Because of the pandemic, food was brought to the table. There was so much! By the time we got to dessert, we asked for only one serving of the five plates, not two. 

A band kept the diners entertained. In addition to playing everything just a little too fast, the threw in a few Christmas songs, including Jingle Bells. 

A plate with deviled eggs and pigs in a blanket

Just part of the first course of our brunch

Despite its name, Gresham Palace never housed royalty. This 100-year-old art nouveau building originally contained apartments and offices for the Gresham Life Assurance Company of Great Britain.

The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest

The front of the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest

Interior of the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest

Art nouveau beauty in the Four Seasons Hotel

Room prices start at around $500 per night, so we won’t be staying there, but we can still enjoy the surroundings at brunch.

Sunday Morning Bike Rides

One of the things I love most when traveling is getting out early before too many people are out. You can’t beat that feeling that you have the city (almost) all to yourself. I have been using the MOL Bubi Bikes and recommend them.

You can find Bubi Bike stands all over the city. The bikes are well-maintained, and the app works well. A monthly pass costs about US$ 1.70 and allows you to ride with no additional charges for up to 30 minutes at a time. If you want to keep riding, you just start a new ride. The cost is only 7 cents per minute if you go over 30 minutes. If you don’t want to pay for the subscription, you will be charged 7 cents per minute.

The wide road along the Danube on the Pest side is closed to traffic on the weekends. I find Sunday mornings ideal for a solo ride since Steve usually prefers to sleep in. 

A bridge and a pond with one orange fish

Sunday morning solitude on Margaret Island

An Unpleasant Surprise

A few days after the devastating floods in Germany and Belgium killed more than 200 people, flooding occured in most of Hungary. Fortunately it was not as drastic.

I was lying in bed on a Monday morning listening to the storm, thinking how nice it is that we are on a high floor and don’t have to worry about flooding.

Then I got out of bed and stepped in water. The rain from the roof was too much for the drainage system in our building to handle, and some came up through our kitchen sink.

After a few hours of cleanup and a meeting with our landlord, all was back to normal.

This Month’s Blog Posts

In addition to our Aquaworld post, we published “Medical Care on the Road: Challenges of Nomad Life.” This post shares information on medical travel insurance and evacuations insurance. I also discuss our personal experiences with medical care while traveling full-time. As a nomad, you can’t escape the hassles involved with staying healthy, but with a bit of planning and tenacity, your medical needs can be met.

This Month’s Media

Steve and I watched all six episodes of How to Become a Tyrant on Netflix in one sitting. Thank you for recommending it, Ramin Mahmoodi. The show is based on the book The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith. The series looks at six 20th Century dictators and the methods they used to gain power. Only one of the six, Kim Jong-un, is still in power. It runs about 3 hours total, and I highly recommend it. 

We have been struggling to find more good things to watch, so Steve did some research and came up with a list of Netflix series we might enjoy. The trick is to use a VPN set to a U.S. city.

One of the shows we watched was Evil.  A forensic psychologist, a seminarian, and a tech wizard investigate suspected supernatural incidents under the direction of the Catholic Church. Supernatural and sci-fi shows aren’t my thing, and some of the effects are a little hokey, but I enjoyed this show. Netflix only has the first season. Season two is on Paramount.

Another show I didn’t think I would enjoy but did is Unorthodox. It is the story of a young Hasidic Jew from the Satmar sect who leaves New York City for Berlin to flee her arranged marriage and oppressive life. The premiere season is currently on Netflix. It is only four episodes. Four more episodes are expected to be released next March. Don’t miss Making Unorthodox at the end of the first season. I was impressed with the attention to detail and authenticity.

The Satmar Jews originated in a small Hungarian town in the early 1900s. After WWII, they settled in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The Satmar sect is one of the largest Hasidic dynasties in the world.

The series was inspired by the autobiographical book Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman. It is now at the top of my reading list.

I just finished the novel We Are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White. It is the story of two women who meet as college freshmen in the 1960s. It follows them and then their daughters through the next three decades as they face racism and antisemitism, and become involved in anti-war activities.    The author does an excellent job of weaving historical facts into the story.  

Another book I loved was This is How it Always Is: A Novel by Laurie Frankel. It is the story of the Walsh Family. They have five sons, the youngest named Claude. At the age of three, Claude announced he wanted to be a girl when he grew up. He also wanted to be a cat. As he grew, the desire to be a cat went the way of childish dreams. The desire to be a girl remained. The novel takes us on the family’s journey as they struggle to support Claude while protecting him from the reactions of society.

The best part is that while this is a novel, Frankel knows the subject well. In the author’s note, she shares with us: “It’s true that my child used to be a little boy and is now a little girl. But this isn’t her story. I can’t tell her story; I can only tell my own story and those of the people I make up.”

The pros and cons of hormone blockers are part of the story, and in the author’s notes she points out the high rate of suicide attempts by trans and gender non-conforming people. The book doesn’t provide answers but provides a realistic look at the issues faced by parents raising a child born in the wrong body.  

Until Next Time

Steve and I would love to hear what you’ve been up to. Drop us a line in the comment section below.

Stay safe and healthy, Linda

Feature photo – the 2021 Budapest Pride Parade on July 24, 2021

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3 Carefree Days at Aquaworld Budapest

Do you want to relax and enjoy a little pampering? Are you looking to escape the summer heat? Or do you want to have some pool-time fun? You can do all this at Aquaworld Budapest.

Like many people, Steve and I were enduring a long heatwave when we discovered Aquaworld. This place looked like fun: pools, pools, and more pools; waterslides; an oriental spa. Breakfast and dinner included. It seemed like a great way to escape the heatwave, and it was.

Read on to see what Aquaworld is all about and if you should make it your next getaway.

What Is Aquaworld?

Aquaworld is a large hotel, waterpark, and spa complex in Budapest. You can visit for a day or stay at the hotel for a mini-vacation like Steve and I did.

Outdoor pools at Aquaworld Resort Budapest

Our first impression, seen from the glass-fronted elevator

The Aquaworld complex has two sections. The aquatic adventure park is called Aquaworld Budapest. The hotel with its own bath area is called Aquaworld Budapest Resort Hotel. Hotel guests have access to the entire complex.

Aquaworld Facts
* It is one of Europe’s largest indoor water theme parks.
* The complex has 21 pools.
* There are 11 water slides.
* The hotel has 309 rooms.
* There is a spa for massages and treatments.
* And a fitness center for workouts or a game of tennis or squash.

The pools are fed from a natural well with a bottom temperature of 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit).

Pool temperatures range from 26 degrees Celsius (78.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in the outdoor lap pool to 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the jacuzzi.

Indoor pool at Aquaworld Resort Budapest

From pools to relax in

To pools full of action

Where is Aquaworld?

Aquaworld is in the far northern part of Budapest on the Pest side. It can be reached by public transportation in about an hour from the tourist areas of Districts V, VI, or VII. 

What We Did

Steve and I booked a standard room for three nights. We took advantage of the hotel’s 2+1 Hello Summer Deal; book 2 nights, get the third one free. The booking included half board (breakfast and dinner each day) and access to all areas of the complex.

When we weren’t enjoying the breakfast and dinner buffets, we spent most of our time relaxing in the warm pools. Our favorite was the indoor/outdoor pool that is part of the hotel.

Outdoor pool and hotel at Aquaworld Resort Budapest

The outdoor pool in the hotel section

We also spent time in the waterpark section, where I tried out the slides, and we both had a little too much fun in the current pool. I would have loved to get a massage, but I don’t yet feel comfortable having someone close to me for an extended period of time. Too bad, as a 50-minute massage costs less than $40.

I wasn’t the only big kid loving the slides

Man in current pool at Aquaworld Budapest

Steve enjoying the current pool

What We Liked

I am a pushover for any hotel stay that includes a breakfast buffet.

Bacon on a breakfast buffet

Did someone say bacon?

Throw in dinner, and I am over the moon. Both meals were served buffet style. You can only do so much with breakfast food, but there was an incredible variety. There was also a lot of variety for dinner, and the food was delicious.

The staff was polite and helpful. When we first got to our room, Steve noticed that the shower door did not shut properly. We immediately informed the front desk, and it was fixed within the hour.

What Could Have Been Better

We wanted a light lunch one day, so we stopped at an outside kiosk. We both ordered a hot dog. We each got three mini hot dogs in a dry roll. The roll crumbled as soon as we bit it. It wasn’t on par with the rest of the food.

Good To Know

Our room did not have a balcony, and the towel warmer that we would have liked to use to dry our swimsuits and robes was not working because it relies on hot water. Being summer, the boiler was off. 

Also, there was only one hook in the bathroom, so there wasn’t a good place to dry swimsuits and robes. We could see clothes drying racks on the balconies of other rooms. If you visit in warm weather, you would be well-advised to get a room with a balcony.

I didn’t pack shampoo and conditioner because they have always been available in hotel rooms. There was shampoo and body wash in the shower, but no conditioner. You can buy it in the gift shop if you need it. Better to bring your own.

Robes are provided for guests to wear to and from the pool. Slippers are not, so be sure to have flip flops, as street shoes are not allowed in the pool areas.

The hotel had two shops that sell swimwear, flip flops, toiletries, toys, etc., but they were only open on certain days and only for a few hours on those days (both at the same time).

Overall Impression
Restaurant at Aquaworld

The main restaurant in the hotel

Aquaworld is listed as a four-star resort. Nothing was dirty or in disrepair. As you can see from the photo above, the hotel is lovely, but the room we were in looked like it was close to needing an update as the carpet and furniture looked a little worn. I would give the water facilities high marks, but consider the hotel room a three-star.

The park was very busy, which is to be expected on a hot summer day. All water areas allow kids of all ages, so you may not find the peace and quiet you are looking for, at least in the summer. We found it best to get to the meal sittings early before the crowds and noise reached a crescendo.

We loved our experience at Aquaworld and plan to go back.

An indoor pool at Aquaworld

Under the dome

Who Is It For?

Anyone who loves being in or around water. You can chose to relax or get a little adrenaline fix.

I imagine any child entering the waterpark would thing he is in Heaven. No matter what age a child is, there is plenty to do in and out of the water.

Collage of Aquaworld

So many ways to play

There were many adults without children too. Like us they took the children’s rambunctiousness in stride. Perhaps there should be an area for adults only.

How Does Aquaworld Compare to Therme Bucuresti?

Steve and I could not help comparing Aquaworld to one of our favorite places, Therme Bucuresti in Bucharest, Romania. Both have thermal pools, waterpark activities, and spa facilities. Even though we enjoyed Aquaworld, we definitely prefer Therme.

4 photo collage of Therme Bucuresti

A few photos from Therme Bucuresti in 2018

Therme is 10 years newer (built in 2016) and much more eye-catching. It boasts the largest botanical garden in Romania, with 800,000 plants. Aquaworld has a few plants placed throughout.

The saunas at Therme are all themed. Aquaworld’s saunas are standard issue.

Therme has several mineral soaking pools and with signs stating the benefits of each.

One way Aquaworld is better than Therme is having a hotel attached to the property. Maybe someday Therme will add a hotel. That would rock.

Both Therme and Aquaworld are a great value for visitors from the U.S. Our total cost for the two of us at Aquaworld for three nights was $555. It breaks down as follows:

Aquaworld Costs

Room, breakfast buffet, dinner buffet, water park entrance for 3 days $490
2 lunches and drinks with 3 dinner $65
Total cost $555

Aquaworld’s slogan is “check in, chill out,” and it lived up to that promise. Steve and I plan to visit again and think it will be even better after kids go back to school or in the winter when you can laze in the warm water of the outdoor pool while snow falls around you. 

We highly recommend Auqaworld when you are in Budapest. And if you happen to visit Bucharest, be sure to experience Therme.

Safe and happy traveling,

Linda

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Medical Care on the Road: Challenges of Nomad Life

One of the biggest concerns people contemplating long-term travel have is handling medical care on the road. I am not going to sugarcoat it: it can be a challenge. And if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that no matter how well-laid your plans are, something will come along to mess them up.

After more than three years on the road, Steve and I have had several medical-related experiences. All were positive except one. In this post, I will share those experiences with you so you can get a feel for the types of medical issues that may arise when you travel.

Medical Insurance Options

There are so many things to consider when choosing how to insure yourself and your family when you travel long-term. Do you keep your U.S. plan? Buy a travel insurance policy? Can you afford to self-insure?

These issues are beyond the scope of this post. If you want to dig deeper into medical insurance options on the road, I recommend starting with two articles by Nora Dunn, The Professional Hobo:

The Complete and Easy Guide to Insurance for Travelers

Expat Health Insurance: Travel Insurance for Full-Time and Long-Term Travelers.

U.S. Based Medical Insurance
Our  Medical Insurance Experiences

Steve and I both retired when we were 60. Since we were too young for Medicare and didn’t know how the whole world travel thing would go, we needed to have a solid U.S. medical insurance policy. We opted to stay with the plans we had through our employers.

In each case, we paid premiums through COBRA for the first 18 months after retirement. The combined monthly cost for COBRA was $1,500. If you do the math, you can see that it cost us a very scary $27,000 for the 18 months we were both on COBRA. I checked alternatives, but anything else would cost at least that much, even the Affordable Care Act (ACA), since you aren’t eligible for a subsidy if you have a viable insurance option available to you.

ACA Saves the Day

The good news is that once Steve’s COBRA period ended in July 2018, we were able to sign him up for insurance through ACA. This worked out great because we were living off savings, so we did not have taxable income. For the past three years, one or both of us have been insured through ACA.

I am currently the only one on ACA, and I pay $26 per month. We paid $65 per month in 2020 for coverage for both of us. The best part was that we got the most generous policy either of us has ever had. That’s saying something since both of our work policies were very good. The new policy is a PPO worth about $1,000 per month.

Disclaimer: everyone’s situation is different, and it is important to understand how ACA works. We happened to luck out with a great set of circumstances when our COBRA periods ended.

Happy Results

We have U.S. medical insurance policies in case we return to the U.S. to live or get medical care, but were pleased to find that our policies paid for a large part of coverage outside of the U.S.

The first time was when I had to visit a doctor in Quito, Ecuador. The total bill was $80. I was still on my PPO through COBRA, so I submitted a claim online. Insurance paid all but the $20 copay.

When Steve had his skiing accident in January of 2020, he was on a PPO through ACA. We decided to submit a claim but didn’t expect much. We were thrilled when they paid $1,800 of our $2,100 costs.

Since that time, we submitted all our medical bills and were reimbursed for most of them.

Travel Medical Insurance
The Choice to Self-Insure

We chose not to purchase travel medical insurance because everything we have read says how cheap medical care is outside the U.S., and we have savings to cover potential costs. And as discussed above, most of our costs have been reimbursed by our U.S. PPOs.

Then Steve turned 65 in January, meaning he was now eligible for Medicare. It also means he is no longer eligible for ACA. Since the basic medicare policy does not cover care outside of the U.S., and he needed proof of insurance to get a residence permit in Hungary, he signed up for Nomad Insurance through SafetyWing. It costs him $138 every four weeks.

One of the cool things about SafetyWing is that you can start and stop it in 4-week intervals. I cannot comment on how good the coverage is since we thankfully haven’t used it yet.

If you don’t have enough savings to cover an unexpected bill that could run into thousands of dollars, you should definitely get travel medical insurance.

The One Insurance We Won’t Travel Without

One insurance we always have is evacuation insurance. We felt this was particularly important since we started our travels on a transatlantic cruise. As high as the amount of our COBRA coverage was, it pales compared to the cost of a medical evacuation.

According to this Forbes Advisor article, “The average emergency medical evacuation costs can set you back $25,000 within North America and up to $100,000 from Europe, according to estimates by Travelex Insurance. In more remote locations, a medical evacuation can cost as much as $250,000”. You can find out more here.

This article from USA Today also discusses evacuation costs.

We have used MedJet for our evacuation insurance since 2018. Medjet is available to citizens of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. It is not medical insurance. It will not cover the cost of seeing a doctor or being hospitalized. Medjet Assist will arrange medical transportation to a hospital in your home country if you are hospitalized while traveling. It will also repatriate your remains should you die while traveling. The Medjet Horizon policy adds crisis response services for a variety of situations.

The price is based on age and the length of coverage. We are in our 60s and get coverage for the entire year. With the $100 discount for AARP members, it costs us $1,100 per year, a great deal since AARP membership for two is only $16 per year.

Beware that while Medjet provides a layer of comfort, it may not be available when you want it. In the early part of the pandemic, Medjet informed their policyholders that they would not be able to evacuate you for any reason because of travel restrictions. Eventually, they were able to resume some transports, including Covid related ones, in some parts of the world. They recently announced as of July 12, 2021, they will transport COVID patients globally.

Prescription Medicine
Our Original Plan

Before we left the U.S., we discussed our plans with our doctors, and they gave us prescriptions for a year. We filled each prescription for the first three months. For our inexpensive medications, we filled the rest of the prescriptions by finding the best prices using GoodRx and paying out-of-pocket.

Steve and I each take a few medications that are too expensive to pay for out-of-pocket in the U.S., so we left with only three month’s worth of these medicines, knowing we would have to refill them while traveling (which is discussed below).

We enlisted our daughter Stephanie’s help in filling our prescriptions for the expensive medicines. We order refills online every quarter, and Stephanie picks them up. The plan was that we would restock for the year on our annual return to the U.S., then we would repeat the cycle.

The plan was foolproof until it wasn’t. Because of the pandemic, we decided not to return to the U.S. in December 2020. That meant we couldn’t pick up the medicine Stephanie had saved for us or see our doctors for refills. That meant we now had to refill all our prescriptions in whichever place we find ourselves.

Traveling With Medication

Since we travel with hundreds of prescription pills, we follow these procedures:

Each of us has a letter from our doctor listing the medications we take, why we take them, and how long we plan to be away.

We also keep about a week’s worth of medication, the doctor’s letters, and copies of our prescriptions in our carry-ons and packed the rest in our checked luggage.

The medicine in our check luggage is kept in the pharmacy-issued bottles, although we do combine bottles to save space.

So far (knock wood), we have not had any issues bringing our medications into other counties.

Your Medicine Will (Probably) Be Cheaper Outside the U.S.

Our first experience with buying medicine overseas was in Croatia. Steve was about to run out of a few medications. He found out that he would need prescriptions for them, so he found an English-speaking doctor to write them. The cost of the doctor’s visit was only $15. The cost of the medicine was $212. The cheapest it could be purchased out-of-pocket in Jacksonville at that time was $1,832.

One month later, I noticed that I was about to run out of one medication. By now, we were in Bucharest, Romania. I was kicking myself for not having taken care of it when Steve did his. But all’s well that ends well. I stopped at a pharmacy to check that if I would need a prescription. The pharmacist said I didn’t. She asked how many boxes I wanted and handed them to me. The cost was $45 per box, compared to the lowest price in Jacksonville of $422 per box.

If you take away one piece of information from this post, it should be this: every country has different rules about which medications require a prescription. Before you visit a doctor, stop by a pharmacy and ask if you need a prescription for your specific medicine or check online.

Every time we have purchased medicine while traveling, it has been in boxed blister packs. The pro is that you can walk into a pharmacy, and as long as they have what you need (they usually do), you walk out a few minutes later all set. No waiting for the bottles to be filled. The downside is that you have to take each pill out of the blister packs.

But Your Medicine May Not Be Available

I found out the hard way that not all medicines are available in every country. I ran out of the thyroid medicine liothyronine in Ecuador. Since it wasn’t available in Ecuador, I arranged to have my daughter mail some to me. I never received it. Fortunately, it is something I can do without.

Liothyronine is also not available in Hungary. My doctor in Budapest explained why: liothyronine is a booster for Levothyroxine, so only a small percent of Levothyroxine users need it. There are not enough potential customers in Hungary to make it available.

So, two words to the wise:

If you have a medication you can’t live without, make sure you have enough with you or that it is available where you are going.

Do not count on getting it via mail. It may work, but in my case, it didn’t, and it was a costly experience both time-wise and money-wise.

OTC Medicines

You can’t walk into a store like Target or Costco and walk out with a year’s worth of pain relievers for $5. For one thing, some medicines that are OTC in the U.S. require a prescription in some countries. Secondly, if a medication is sold OTC, it will usually be in a box of 10 or 20 tablets and cost much more per tablet than we are used to paying.

And some aren’t available. In Budapest, I couldn’t buy diphenhydramine hydrochloride (anti-itch) medication (crème or pills). My doctor suggested another OTC medicine, and it seems fine, but once I get back to the U.S., I will be replenishing my diphenhydramine hydrochloride supply.

Our Experiences With Doctors

The second time we visited a doctor was in our second year of travel. We arrived in Quito, Ecuador, from the Galapagos Islands. Soon after we arrived, we both started feeling lethargic and slightly nauseous. At first, we feared altitude sickness because the Galapagos Islands are at sea level, and Quito is at an elevation of 9,350 feet (2,850 meters). Digestive issues followed a few days later. After a bit, Steve felt better, but my symptoms lingered long enough that I decided to see a doctor.

The visit couldn’t have been smoother. I found the name of an English-speaking doctor on my insurance company’s website. When I called, the receptionist put the doctor on the line. I explained what was going on, and he said to come right in.

I saw the doctor, and he ordered some tests, which were done right away in the same building. After a few hours wait, I got the results. Total cost: $80.

Before we traveled to Budapest in March of 2020, I ran across a blog that recommended FirstMed for English-speaking travelers. I made a note of it just in case, and I am glad I did. We have been in Budapest for sixteen months now because of the pandemic and have used the FirstMed services many times.

At first, we only visited to get prescriptions, and the out-of-pocket cost was reasonable. When it became evident that we would be here a while, we signed up for the Premium Plan. It cost $1,200 for the two of us ($689 for an individual). The plan covers a lot, including up to 28 doctor visits, annual checkups, and diagnostics. Learn about the plans they offer.

I was blown away by their efficiency when I had my annual physical (included in the Premium Plan). It started with a visit with my primary doctor, then a mammogram including ultrasound, an ECG, bloodwork, and two vaccines. All in 1 ½ hours and all in the same building.

Our Hospital Experiences

We have had two experiences with hospitals; one bad and one good.

The bad one was very bad. That was Steve’s nightmarish experience in Bulgaria after his skiing accident. He was in a small hospital in the small town of Razlog. But in speaking with others in Bulgaria, I believe that medical care isn’t very good anywhere in the country, even in the capital.

Our second experience with a foreign hospital was in Budapest when I had an e-scooter accident. That was much more in line with the type of facility and treatment we are used to.

The quality of medical care won’t stop me from visiting it a location, but it may limit what I choose to do there. For example, now that I know that medical care is not so good in Bulgaria, I wouldn’t choose to ski there.

Here are two articles that rank healthcare by country:

Best Healthcare In The World 2021

Healthcare Index by Country 2021 Mid-Year

I hope this post has provided you with some useful information about the medical care challenges long-term and full-time travelers face. I am not an expert, and everything I have written is anecdotal; however, if you have any questions, Steve and I would be glad to answer them to the best of our abilities.

As always, Steve and I would love to hear about your medical care experiences while traveling.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

Featured photo by Daniele D’Andreti on Unsplash.com

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June 2021 Recap: Things Are Looking Up in Hungary

Hello, I hope all is well with you. Steve and I are still in Budapest and plan to be here for another year. It’s been another low-key month, but things are definitely looking up here. Hopefully, they are where you are too.

Our big news is that we finally got our Covid vaccines! 

Pandemic Update

Here in Hungary, things appear to be going in the right direction. The number of Covid cases dropped below 100 per day by the end of June (according to Worldometer). At month-end, the government announced that once the number of vaccinated people reaches 5.5 million (about 56% of the population), they would further ease restrictions. 

Current restrictions include masks in shops and on public transportation. Only those with immunity cards can visit museums and gyms, eat inside restaurants, or stay at hotels. Since we don’t have our immunity cards yet, we have not been able to do these things.

We Finally Got Vaccinated

In Hungary, like the U.S., citizens who wanted to be vaccinated could do so in the spring. Being foreigners, we had to wait until the Hungarian government vaccinated its citizens. Steve and I understood that and were OK with being at the end of the line.

We weren’t OK with the lack of information and that the website for non-citizens kept crashing. Steve was diligent about keeping us registered, but alas, it did no good.

It was a Facebook post by an ex-pat that led us to our vaccines. This person said he sent an email to the Army hospital asking about vaccines and was told to come in the next day. Steve immediately sent an email, and sure enough, he received one back telling us to come in the next morning.

Our first and second choices were Pfizer and Moderna, but we were offered J&J and decided to take that instead of waiting who knows how much longer. 

After our shot, we were told that we would get our immunity cards in the mail. It could be a week; it could be a month. We didn’t have our cards after two weeks, so we decided to visit the local office to see what we could do. The woman who waited on Steve told him he was not in the system. Surprise, surprise. So we continue to wait for our immunity cards. There’s a good chance that the immunity card restrictions will be lifted before we get our cards.

Food, Food, and More Food

There is still a lot we can’t do, but we can eat outdoors at restaurants. And did we ever. We enjoyed several meals at our favorite Budapest restaurant, Kiskakukk. We revisited favorites from last year and found a few new places.

Chicken Fajitas at Tereza in Budapest
We love the chicken fajitas at Tereza.
Killer lemonade at Wasabi Extra in Pest
Wasabi Extra has fantastic fruit-filled lemonade as well as fabulous food.
Hungarian breakfast at Drum Cafe in Budapest
Hungarian breakfast at Drum Cafe

We were sad to see that one of our favorites, Pizza Eataliano (dumb name, great food), was a victim of the pandemic. Another favorite, Babka, changed their menu. They no longer offer either of our favorites.

We Are Legal For Another Year

In May, we completed all the paperwork to renew our Residence Permits for another year. Early in June, right on schedule, our new permits arrived in the mail. Yay!

We are now allowed to stay in Hungary until mid-July 2022. The best part is that when travel opens up, we will be able to travel in the Schengen Area at will, as opposed to being restricted to 90 days out of every 180 days with our U.S. passport. For now, we will be happy to be able to travel within Hungary, which should happen in July if the Delta variant doesn’t take hold here.

Anniversary Day

On June 2nd Steve and I celebrated 42 years of marriage by doing two of our favorite things, eating and visiting a garden. We started with a light lunch at Kiskakukk, then strolled the Buda Arboretum for a few hours. We ended the day with a wonderful dinner at TG Italia. 

Some of the gorgeous plants and flowers we enjoyed at the Buda Arboretum
Lovin’ Our New Home

We moved to an apartment closer to the city center in May. We love our new location. We are on the 8th floor overlooking a main street. The views are terrific. As Steve said, “These are really good seats.” After living in suburbia for 60 years, it turns out that we love city living.

Nighttime view of Budapest Eye
Our nighttime view

Another plus to our new place is that we are at a major transportation hub. The airport shuttle bus is literally across the street. We can take a short bus ride to the Lehel Market when it’s time for some heavy-duty grocery shopping.

People shopping at Lehel Market in Budapest, Hungary
Inside the Lehel Market – huge selection in a colorful building
Nice Weather (While it Lasted)

After a housebound winter and a chilly spring, it was great to have warm, sunny weather. While we were busy eating our way around the city, a heatwave struck. For the last two weeks of the month, highs ranged from 88 degrees up to 100 degrees. This is 20 degrees higher than average.

The Danube River and the Buda side of Budapest
Buda and the Danube River on a perfect day.

Fortunately, we have air conditioning, but since we couldn’t visit indoor venues, we laid low during this time. Daily naps became the norm.

You would think that living in Florida for 30 years would have acclimated us. That doesn’t seem to be the case. 

A Semi-Productive Month

In between nap time and reading time, I finished a post about several Holocaust Memorial sites in Budapest and one about the Lehel Market. I am still slogging away on my Italian lessons (will I ever use them?), and thanks to Zoom, I can enjoy the inspiration and camaraderie of my fellow toastmasters at Toast of Jax. 

Looking Forward

We hope to start traveling around the country in July. There are several places we want to visit, including multiple towns around Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe, and a popular vacation spot. We visited the lakeside town of Balatonfured in October and loved it.

Locally, we are also looking forward to doing some of the things we couldn’t do during the height of pandemic, including seeing the inside of the Hungarian Parliament building and the Dohany Street Synagogue.

Steve and I hope all is going well for you. We would love to hear from you in our comments section.

Stay safe and healthy,

Linda

Featured photo by Linda – Vaci Street coming back to life after the pandemic shutdown.

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Budapest’s Quirky and Colorful Lehel Market

Budapest is full of incredible things to see and do. One that makes every list of things to do in the city is the Great Market Hall (Vasarcsarnok), also referred to as the Central Market Hall. It is worth a trip to view the impressive building with its Zsolnay tile roof. 

The Central Market Hall in Budapest
The front of the Central Market Hall early on a Sunday morning

However, for something different I suggest you visit the Lehel Market (Lehel Csarnok).

Full disclosure, I am not a fan of markets. I don’t enjoy food shopping, so I want to get in and out ASAP, not stroll from stall to stall making multiple purchases. Also, most markets are open fewer hours than supermarkets, so they tend to be crowded. But when Steve and I happened across Lehel Market one day, I was impressed enough to return another day for a shopping trip and a chance to photograph its unique interior.

You may be shocked when you first see it. It has nothing in common with any other building in Budapest. It is supposed to resemble a ship.

I think the outside is an eyesore, and I am not the only one. Here is a quote from Steve Fallon, Lonely Planet:

“Lehel Csarnok is housed in a hideous boat-like structure designed by László Rajk, son of the Communist minister of the interior executed for ‘Titoism’ in 1949. Apparently this is his revenge.”

Exterior of the Lehel Market in Budapest
The incredibly unique Lehel Market building

Once you enter the market, you will be greeted with a colorful interior full of brightly painted beams and curving railings.

Inside the Lehel Market
Twisty railings and bright colors in the Lehel Market

Both markets are heavy on food products: produce, pastries, meats, herbs, and spices (including many paprika products). Both have a supermarket in the basement and stalls on the upper levels where you can buy non-food items or grab a quick bite. The upper floors in the Lehel Market are teeming with inexpensive household and personal products (think dollar store after dollar store). 

Lehel is also more “market-like,” in my opinion. The Central Market has a touristy feel with the first-floor stalls flanking wide aisles.

Interior of the Central Market
First floor of the central market late in the afternoon

Lehel Market combines stalls with plenty of tables full of produce. 

Produce stands in the Lehel Market
Just a few of the produce stands in the Lehel Market

The Central Market is a draw for tourists, while Lehel is more of a locals’ shopping center.

The Central Market is on the Pest side near the foot of the Liberty Bridge in Fővám tér (District IX). Lehel Market is on Vaci utca 9-15, just a bit north of the Westend Mall. Both can be reached easily by public transportation. Lehel Market is a bit further from the city center, but not so far that you should miss it if markets are your thing.

For more market options in Budapest, check out The Most Important Markets in Budapest by Have Fun Budapest and The Funky Side of Budapest for more Hungarian quirkiness.

Stay safe and healthy,

Linda

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10 Must-See Holocaust Memorials in Budapest

If you find the history of the Holocaust as poignant and powerful as I do, you may wish to visit some of the Holocaust memorials in Budapest. This post highlights ten sites in Budapest that keep the memory of that terrible time alive and honor those who lost their lives as well as those who risked their lives to save the innocent.

While the Nazis persecuted many groups, the largest impact was on Jews. Throughout the post, I will reference the impact on the Jews of Hungary. This is not meant to ignore or diminish the effects on other groups.

The ten memorials are organized by district. The districts  are laid out like this:

Color map of Budapest’s districts
Districts of Budapest Colored”, by Heizler, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

District V
1. Memorial for Victims of the German Occupation

The Memorial for Victims of the German Occupation in Budapest
The Memorial for Victims of the German Occupation with personal items displayed in front

The Memorial for Victims of the German Occupation in Budapest
The Memorial for Victims of the German Occupation with personal items displayed in front

This beautiful but controversial statue on the southern edge of Liberty Square was erected during the night in July 2014. It shows the Archangel Gabriel (a national symbol of Hungary) being attacked by an eagle (representing Nazi Germany).

Some Hungarians feel that the statue puts all the blame of the persecution of Jews on the Germans and ignores the fact that Hungarians collaborated with the Nazis and aided in the deportation of their countryman. You can learn more about this controversy here.

In front of the statue, you can see a poignant collection of photos and artifacts that keep the memories of the  victims alive. It is an impassioned response to the Memorial to the Victims of German Occupation.

Collage of items left in front of the Memorial to the Victims of the German Occupation
Just a few of the items in front of the Memorial to the Victims of the German Occupation

In addition to the two items above, you can see the Memorial to the Soviet Red Army in the northern part of Liberty Square. It honors the soldiers who liberated Hungary from the Nazis. Unfortunately, the Soviets went on to occupy Hungary for 45 years.

The Memorial to the Soviet Red Army in Liberty Square, Budapest
The Memorial to the Soviet Red Army at the opposite end of Liberty Square

Many statues from Soviet times have been removed from their places of honor and erected in Momento Park, but the Monument to the Soviet Red Army remains in a place of honor.

2. Shoes on the Danube

Part of the Shoes on the Danube memorial in Budapest
Just a few of the 60 pairs of shoes in the Shoes on the Danube memorial

This unique memorial commemorates the thousands of people killed by the Arrow Cross Party. This fascist, anti-semitic party ruled Hungary for less than six months in the fall and winter of 1944-1945.

One way the party terrorized Jews was to line up a group along the bank of the Danube River, force them to remove their shoes (because leather had value), then shoot them and let the river wash their bodies away.

The memorial was designed by artist Gyula Pauer and was unveiled in 2005. It consists of 60 pairs of iron shoes representing the men, women, and children murdered here.

In addition to this atrocity, the Arrow Cross Party deported 80,000 people to the Austrian concentration camps.

Unfortunately, hatred remains in some people’s hearts. After the unveiling ceremony, several pairs of shoes were removed with a crowbar and kicked into the river. At a later time, pig’s feet were found in the shoes.

The monument is on the Pest side of the Danube River, south of the Hungarian Parliament Building.

3. Raoul Wallenberg Bench

The Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Bench in Budapest
The Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Bench

Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish architect, businessman, and diplomat who served as Sweden’s special envoy in Budapest in 1944. During that time, he saved thousands of Hungarian Jews by issuing protective passports and sheltering them in buildings that were designated Swedish territory.

Wallenberg was taken into custody by the Soviets in early 1945. The circumstances of his death remain a mystery. One likely scenario was that he was executed in Lubyanka Prison in Moscow in 1947. He would have been 34 years old.

The bench is on the southeastern side of Elizabeth Square.

There is also a plaque honoring Wallenberg at the corner of Raoul Wallenberg utca and Pozsony utca in District XIII.

Wall plaque in Budapest honoring Raoul Wallenberg
A plaque honoring Raoul Wallenberg in District XIII

District VI
4. House of Terror (Terror Háza)

Exterior of the Terror House Museum in Budapest
The eye-catching exterior of the Terror House Museum

A visit to the House of Terror will take you chronologically through the history of two Hungarian totalitarian dictatorships of the twentieth century. It begins with the Nazi occupation of Hungary in March of 1944 and continues through the first eleven years of the 45-year long Soviet occupation.

The two main parties to know are:

The Arrow Cross Party – This far-right group was modeled after the Nazi Party of Germany. They were in power for less than six months in 1944 and 1945. During that short time, they murdered between 10,000 and 15,000 civilians and deported 80,000 Hungarians to concentration camps.

The AVH – The secret police of the People’s Republic of Hungary during the early part of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Hungary. This group was comparable to the KGB. I was shocked to learn that this group used concentration camps after WWII but could not find much information about them.

This museum is particularly impactful because it is located in the building used by the two dictatorships to detain, torture, and kill those they considered enemies of the state.

The building is on Andrássy Avenue, an elegant boulevard considered by some to be the Champs-Élysées of Budapest. Its location makes this excerpt from the Terror House website particularly haunting:

We are not in a distant military prison, not deep down in a dungeon, but on the avenue of the civil world, just a half a metre from the pavement, from the everyday life.”

To do this museum justice, be prepared to spend at least two hours.

Location: Andrássy Avenue 60

District VII
5. Stolpersteine (Stumbling Stones)

In Budapest and other cities in Europe, you can find plaques about 4 inches square embedded in the pavement in front of buildings. They commemorate residents of the buildings who were victims of the Nazis.

These stones uphold the Talmud’s teaching that a person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten.

Each plaque includes the resident’s name, date of birth, and as much information about their places and dates of deportation and death as is known.

Stolpersteine (Stumbling Stone) in Budapest

This one reads, “Here inhabited Dr. Istvan Zoltan, Born 1899, Deported to Mauthausen Concentration Camp on Oct. 20, 1944, Killed April 18, 1946.”

Stolpersteines (Stumbling Stones) for a husband and wife in Budapest

These two stones are for a husband and wife. The husband, Jozsef, was born in 1905. He was deported in 1942, although no destination is given. He died in 1945 in the Hungarian town of Koszeg, where the Nazis had a  slave labor camp. He may have been one of the 4,500 people who died of typhus in that camp.

More detail is known about the wife, Joszefne. She was taken to the Theresienstadt Ghetto in the Czech Republic. This was a hybrid concentration camp and ghetto. According to the stone, she died in Budapest in 1946 as a consequence of her captivity.

In Hungary, it was traditional for the wife not only to take the husband’s last name but for her to also take his first name with ‘ne’ added to the end. So, in this case, the wife, given the name Magdolna at birth, became Jozsefne upon her marriage.

While there are stolpersteine in many of Budapest’s district, the greatest concentration can be seen in District VII since a part of this district was historically Jewish. Learn more from A Guide to Budapest’s Jewish Quarter by Offbeat Budapest.

There are more than 70,000 stones in over 2,000 cities and towns in Europe. Read more about the stones in this BBC article.

6. The Emanuel Tree Memorial

The Emanuel Tree Memorial in Budapest
The stunning Emanuel Tree Memorial in Budapest

Each leaf of this sparkling silver tree has the name of a Hungarian Jew killed during the Holocaust. The tree is in the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Garden of the Dohany Street Synagogue. It stands over mass graves of some of those murdered by the Nazis in 1944–45.

There are four red marble plates nearby that recognize 240 non-Jewish Hungarians who saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust.

The tree was installed in 1991 and paid for by the American actor Tony Curtis in memory of his Hungarian-born father, Emanuel Schwartz.

The tree can be seen at Wesselényi utca 7. It is part of the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives.

I took the photo through a fence because we couldn’t visit the museum during the pandemic. There is much more to see in the Dohany Street Synagogue and the Jewish Museum. I will update this post once we can visit them.

7. Ghetto Memorial Wall

Ghetto Memorial Wall in Budapest
The Ghetto Memorial Wall

I ran across this memorial by surprise while walking down Dohany utca one afternoon. As I passed an apartment building, I noticed what looked like bullet holes in the front wall. Just past the building, I saw three large pieces of rusted metal with inspirational writing in three languages (Hungarian, English, and Hebrew). It turned out to be the Ghetto Memorial Wall.

Next to the writing is a map of the Jewish Ghetto. There are holes through which you can see scenes from that time.

Map of the Jewish Ghetto in Budapest
The Ghetto map

Two scenes in the Ghetto Memorial Wall map
Two of the eleven photos you can see through the peep holes in the map

In November 1944, 200,000 Jews were forced into the ghetto. When the Soviet Army liberated it during the Battle of Budapest in January 1945, only 70,000 residents remained.

The memorial was installed in 2015 in recognition of the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust.

You can see this memorial at Dohány utca 34.

8. Hanna Szenes Mini Statue 

There are about 20 mini statues in Budapest. They are the work of a sculptor named Mihály Kolodko. The statues are small (less than 1-foot square) and set throughout the city. Their subjects range from pop culture to politics, from humor to history.

One of the statues honors a woman named Hanna Szenes. She was a Hungarian-born Jewish war hero who parachuted into Yugoslavia during World War II to assist anti-Nazi forces. Unfortunately, she was captured and executed at the tender age of 23. Throughout her imprisonment and torture, she refused to give her captors the information they sought.

Hanna Szenes mini statue
Hanna ready to jump into Yugoslavia

The statue is at the corner of Hanna Szenes Park at Rózsa utca and Jósika utca.

Here is more of Hannah’s courageous story.

9. Carl Lutz Memorial

Carl Lutz was a Swiss diplomat assigned to Budapest in 1942. He is credited with saving the lives of 62,000 Jews from 1942 until the end of WWII in 1945. This memorial to him was erected in 1991.

The Carl Lutz Memorial in Budapest
This Carl Lutz Memorial is one of the oddest statues I have seen.

Lutz housed Jews in safe houses in the city. The most famous is The Glass House, the former site of a glass import business. There is a small but well-regarded museum in this building at Vadasz utca 29. Unfortunately, we have not visited it yet because it has been closed during the pandemic.

In addition to safe houses, Lutz arranged for protective letters that allowed 8,000 Jews to emigrate to Palestine. This involved working with the Nazis, who grudgingly allowed him to offer protection to some Jews. Learn more about the amazing Carl Lutz and the use of protection letters.

There is a plaque on the wall next to the statue that reads:

Whoever saves a life is considered as if he has saved an entire world” Talmud

This memorial is a Dob utca 12.

District IX
10. Holocaust Memorial Center

The Holocaust Memorial Center is a memorial to the more than half a million Hungarian Jews killed by the Nazis. Its permanent exhibit, titled “From the Deprivation of Rights to Genocide,” follows history as Jews in Hungary were first stripped of their property and human rights to the horrors of mass shootings and deportation to concentration camps.

A strikingly modern building houses the museum. In the courtyard, you can see a glass hall called the Tower of Lost Communities. The names of 1,441 settlements that lost their entire Jewish population to deportations.

Glass and marble Tower of Lost Communities

At the end of the exhibit, you can see the small but beautiful Budapest Synagogue.

Interior of the Budapest Synagogue
The Budapest Synagogue

The museum opened in 2004 in the location of the Páva utca Synagogue. There is a lot to take in, so allow at least a few hours. Almost everything has an English translation.

Location: Páva utca 39

Dig Deeper Into the Memorials

While researching this post, I came across the thesis Holocaust Memorials in Budapest, Hungary, 1987-2010: Through the words of the memorial artists by Jessica Taylor-Tudzin. It is a long but interesting read.

More About Budapest

For a lighthearted look at Budapest, check out The Funky Side of Budapest and don’t miss The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos.

Steve and I love hearing from our readers. Please let us know if you have seen any of these memorials and what they meant to you. As always, I have done my best to be accurate, but if my facts are not correct, please let me know.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

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May 2021 Recap: Still Sidelined in Budapest

Well, here we are, fourteen months into the pandemic. I hope you and your loved ones are staying healthy and sane. It can be a challenge at times, but things are looking up.

Steve and I are still in Budapest, waiting to be vaccinated and be able to travel again. Here is a look at what May 2021 was like for Steve and me.

State of the Pandemic

Top on everyone’s mind: pandemic numbers and restrictions. Soon after we arrived in Budapest in mid-March 2020, the entire country went on lockdown. It was so quiet. Fear of the unknown kept people inside. We reached a comfort level where we would take a walk about twice a week. The one bright spot was enjoying landmarks like Fisherman’s Bastion and Buda Castle without the crowds.

Two photos of an empty Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest
The peaceful Fisherman’s Bastion in the spring of 2020

The first shutdown lasted only two months, and even after the country opened back up, the Covid numbers remained low. Then in late summer, the number of cases started rapidly increasing. A second shutdown began in November and didn’t end until May.

Despite being in the second shutdown, the number of cases exploded in March and April. At its high point, there were more than 10,000 new cases per day. That is a lot considering that there are less than 10 million people in the whole country.

As fortunate as we felt to be here in the early stages of Covid, particularly when the U.S. was struggling, we are now shocked to find that Hungary has the highest reported Covid death rate in the world, according to Worldometers.info.

Vaccine Anticipation

We were finally able to register for the vaccine in early May. Now we must wait until we are notified that it is our turn.

The Hungarian government is proud of the number of vaccinations it has administered (50% of citizens are vaccinated), but they are struggling to vaccinate non-citizens. The website for non-citizens has crashed several times, and the process for getting the vaccination card has been fraught with problems.

So we wait, hoping to get vaccinated in the not too distant future. The Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Astra-Zenica, and Pfizer vaccines are all available to some extent, along with the Russian and Chinese ones. We are not sure how much choice we will have when our turn comes.

I can attest that vaccine envy is a real thing.

Renewing Our Residence Permit

We have permits that allow us to stay in Hungary until mid-July. Since things are still uncertain with the virus, we decided to extend them for another year.

Last year we did this on our own. It involved three visits to the Office of Alien Policing and a total of 20 hours of waiting. It was as if the Marquis de Sade ran the DMV.

This time we hired a company called nVisaHungary to represent us. We still had to provide tons of paperwork, but our representative’s guidance made it less stressful. We had our appointment in mid-May. It was quick and painless, so hopefully, we will have our new permits by mid-June.

It costs $850 for the immigration guidance for the two of us, which is a lot of money, but given how much we’ve saved over the past fourteen months, we felt it was a luxury we could afford. And if we don’t get the permits, we pay nothing.

Moving Around But Not On

Steve and I are anxious to get moving. Sitting in one place for more than a year is not how we roll. Right now, the best we can do is move apartments.

A Catch-22 of applying for a residence permit is that you need to have proof of accommodations for the duration, so you have to sign a lease before you know if you will be able to stay.

We were in an apartment in District IX since October. There were many things we loved about it. It is bright, spacious, and comfortable. It has a full kitchen (what is referred to as an American kitchen here), a living room, dining room, two bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, and two balconies. It is also very close to a supermarket and just a few blocks from a small mall.

A bright livingroom
The light, bright living room in our old apartment

The downside is that it is a bit away from the city center. During the shutdown, that was OK, but as things open up and we get vaccinated, we want to be in the city center.

The apartment was an Airbnb listing, and because there was much more supply than demand, we paid less than $1,000 per month. But now that there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, rents have taken a big jump. It would cost us at least 50% more to stay there long-term. On top of that, our host isn’t the best communicator.

We wanted to find a place that would be more cost-effective because once it is safe, we plan to visit other towns in Hungary and nearby countries. That means double accommodation costs.

We moved into our new place on May 26th. It is a bit smaller than the last place but very stylish. The owner used to have an interior decorating business, so it is full of touches you don’t often see in a rental.

Photo collage of apartment in District VII
Our new digs

A Taste of Freedom

By May 1st, the Covid numbers had come down enough for closed businesses, including restaurants, museums, and gyms, to open, but only to people who could prove they were vaccinated.

Since Steve and I are in our 60s with some health issues, we have been erring on the side of caution. We have kept our non-essential excursions to a minimum and did not eat outdoors at restaurants once that became available.

On the 21st, we finally let our guard down a little and took advantage of a beautiful day, which was a welcome change from the cold, cloudy weather that has plagued the city. We walked to the Liberty Bridge to see the latest mini-statue by Mihály Kolodko, then continued to the Buda side of the city.

Check out this article from Budapest Flow to learn more about the Kolodko mini statues.

A mini statue on a green bridge
Mihály Kolodko mini statue of Emperor Franz Joseph

While strolling on Gellért Hill, we noticed that the Cave Church was open. We’ve been to Gellért Hill several times, but the church has always been closed.

What a cool place. If you want to know more about this unique place of worship, check out this article about the Cave Church.

Four photos of the Cave Church in Budapest
Just a few of the cool things to see in the Cave Church in Budapest

We also enjoyed our first meal out in more than six months. We went to one of our favorite restaurants, Kiskakukk. The name means little cuckoo. It is more than 100 years old and serves traditional Hungarian food. I can only vouch for the stuffed cabbage, though. It is the only thing I ever order there because I absolutely love it.

A plate of stuffed cabbage
Stuffed cabbage at Kiskakukk – I dreamed of this during shutdown

Now that things are opening up, here are three posts to inspire you while in Budapest:

20 Quick and Cool Things to See and Do In Budapest

The Funky Side of Budapest (including photos of five more Kolodko mini statues)

The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos

Keeping Busy

Despite being locked down for half a year, we have kept busy, and the days and months have gone quickly. In addition to working on this blog, I am studying Italian and have reconnected with my Jacksonville Toastmasters group, Toast of Jax, thanks to Zoom.

All this downtime has given me a lot of opportunities to read. In May, I discovered a new author, Joshilyn Jackson. I am on my fifth book by her.

Steve has been equally busy cooking (he makes an incredible chicken paprikash), answering travel questions on Quora while promoting Wind and Whim, and tending to all the little things that need attention in a home. He has also been staying on top of the constantly changing Covid and vaccine situations.

Looking Forward

June looks brighter than May in several ways:

The weather is getting better.

We hope to get our new residence permits in the early part of the month.

We may be able to take a side-trip or two within Hungary soon.

And last, but definitely not least, we will celebrate our 42nd anniversary on June 2nd. I am so grateful that Steve was willing to make the leap to full-time travel and that he is as curious about the world as I am. Despite being sidelined, I count my blessings every day.

Steve and I wish you a wonderful June.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

Featured photo of the Liberty Bridge, the Danube River, and Pest as seen from Gellert hill – by Linda Gerbec

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5 Tips for Finding the Best Airbnb Rentals

In this post, I will share some of our Airbnb experiences and the lessons we learned from them. If you are in a hurry, you can scroll to the last section, All Five Tips, in the table of contents (below).

If you use Airbnb, you probably do what we do: read the reviews and study the photos and map. Unfortunately, this isn’t always enough to ensure you’ll find the best Airbnb for your needs.

Below are five additional things we do when searching for an Airbnb and the stories of how we came to adopt them. Hopefully, they can help you have the best Airbnb experiences possible too.

All money is in U.S. dollars.

A Bumpy Start

Steve and I began our full-time travels in 2018. That year we traveled for eight months and stayed in seventeen accommodations, including twelve Airbnbs. Three years later, we still rely on Airbnb for our longer stays. However, it was not without some bumps in the beginning.

One host misrepresented his apartment, leaving us with a curtain in place of a bathroom door. Another host canceled our reservation eleven days before our arrival. But possibly the strangest thing was the solid block of ice in the freezer in our rental in Croatia.

Our First Curve Ball

We got off to a less than promising start when we booked an apartment in Barcelona a year before we began our travels. We decided on one and pushed the instant book key. Then we posted this milestone to Facebook.

The next day we got a message from Manuel, the host, saying the price was wrong. He didn’t name a new price but asked us to make an offer. We said no and asked him to cancel the reservation.

We didn’t want to cancel it because, as a guest, if you cancel an Airbnb reservation of 28 days or more (long-term in Airbnb land), you are liable for the first month’s fee. But Manuel wouldn’t budge.

After waiting several days for Manuel to cancel the reservation, I called Airbnb. They said the best thing was for us to cancel and there would be no penalty.

With that taken care of, we were able to book another apartment in Barcelona for $500 more than the first one. It had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a small balcony, and a washing machine. We were surprised to find that the washing machine was on the rooftop patio.

A small living room with a sofa, a table with two chairs, and a refrigerator
Our apartment in Barcelona was safe and clean but nothing special. And yes, the refrigerator was in the living room.

Lesson #1 – Do not instant book.

We now communicate with the host before booking. We verify the dates and price and ask questions about the accommodation.

Two chairs and a small table with a stuffed hedgehog on a balcony
Hedgie loved watching the action from our tiny balcony in Barcelona.

We’re Staying in a Closet?

We were excited to find a studio in Paris for $1,000 per month. From the description, we knew it was small, and we knew that this was very inexpensive for Paris. We planned to spend two months in Paris, so we grabbed this baby.

The minute we walked in, we knew that there was no way we could spend two months there. There is small, and there is microscopic. The whole place was about 100 square feet. In addition, two things in the posting were misleading.

First, there was a picture of a Murphy bed with shelving on either side. There was a Murphy bed but no shelving because there wasn’t room for any.

Second, there was a review stating that the bathroom didn’t have a door, with a reply from the host saying there was a door. Unless door has a different meaning in France, this was a lie. There was a curtain separating the bathroom/kitchen area from the living/sleeping area. And it didn’t even go all the way across.

Because of these two issues, the host agreed to let us out of the second month without penalty.

Area with a shower door, toilet, small sink, and towel warmer
The bathroom area in our Paris apartment – note the tiny sink above the toilet. It did have an amazing shower, though.

A foldable table and chair set in front of a shower stall and toilet
This foldable table and chair became my early morning workplace while Steve slept.

Lesson #2 – We never book a place for more than one month. We can tolerate most places for that long.

Lesson– #2B -Always verify that there is a door on the bathroom. Only half kidding here.

Now What?

With the second month’s Paris lodging canceled, we decided to spend that month in Strasbourg, France. We had to scramble because it was tourist season, but we found a place. We practiced the first lesson by communicating with the host before booking.

Eleven days before we were scheduled to arrive, she asked for an increase of 54%. We said no. She replied by saying we should cancel the booking. Apparently, she wanted to avoid the penalties Airbnb imposes on hosts when they cancel a booking. We held firm, and she eventually canceled it.

We ended up finding a place in Strasbourg that turned out to be nearly perfect. It was clean, spacious, and uncluttered. It was a little higher than our budget, but we were happy to pay the difference because the bathroom had an actual door, even if it was a sliding door that tended to open on a whim, requiring the use of a doorstop to guarantee privacy.

Lesson #3 – Do not book with any host whose comments show that they canceled a reservation unless the host provides a good reason.

We realize that emergencies happen. Airbnb gives hosts the option of responding to a cancellation post. If they don’t respond, we can only assume that they did not have a good reason to cancel on a past guest.

Airbnb in Our Future

During this time, we had three more reservations booked through Airbnb, two of them long-term. We were feeling trapped but knew we had to make the best of it. I am happy to report that all these apartments had good, solid bathroom doors. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t other issues.

The next stay was three nights in London. We found what appeared to be a lovely two-bedroom flat, but it turned out to be quite dirty. The problems included food left in the sink, odor in the refrigerator, mold in the shower, stains on a curtain, and cooking supplies that belonged in the garbage.

The bottom of a stained curtain
Stains on the curtain of our London rental. Yuck!

I messaged the host to let him know that the apartment wasn’t clean and suggested he might want to see it for himself since he worked only two doors away. He did not respond to this. He did offer to have the cleaning crew come back.

We only had two full days in London, and we didn’t want to spend them waiting for cleaners. Nor did we trust them with our belongings, so we declined.

Because of the condition of the kitchen, we ate all meals out. Oh, darn! We were amused that his review of us included that “the apartment was returned clean and tidy.” What?

No new lesson here. Sometimes you just chalk it up to experience and move on.

On to Zagreb, Croatia

Our next stop was Zagreb, Croatia. We booked a spacious apartment for only $813 US. It had air conditioning and was clean and comfortable. And again, the bathroom had a good, solid door. There was only one problem, a solid block of ice in the freezer.

A frozen solid freezer
At least the freezer was cold.

We were shown into the apartment by Mladen, a friend of our host. He did not speak English, and we don’t speak Croatian. Steve set about looking around the apartment. He opened the freezer door and saw the ice. Mladen quickly ran over signally “no” and firmly shut the door. OK, so we didn’t have use of the freezer, no big deal.

Shortly after he left, we had a message from our host telling us that we must not use the freezer to cool the apartment, and if the refrigerator breaks, we will be charged for it.

The next day Steve offered to defrost the freezer. Our host’s response was quite chilly. She told Steve not to touch it. She ended up sending Mladen over to take care of it. It turned out the entire freezer was a block of ice, so this problem had been going on for a while. We couldn’t understand why it wasn’t taken care of earlier.

Aside from this issue, we had a great stay in this apartment and managed to put this issue behind us when dealing with our host.

Lesson #4 – Take pictures of any problem areas as soon as you arrive, and discuss the big ones with the host.

We’ve been doing this from the beginning. The other thing we do is take pictures before we move any items so we can put them back where they were before we leave.

Discovering Superhosts

While in Zagreb, we took a side trip to Split, a small beach town on the Adriatic Sea. This time we rented from a Superhost for the first time. This was our best Airbnb experience up to that point.

Superhosts are Airbnb hosts who have met several requirements, including receiving high scores from guests, having no cancelations by the host except in extreme cases, and having a high rate of response to inquiries.

A man with his head thrown back and a huge smile
How we felt when we discovered superhosts – photo by Bruce Mars on Unsplash.com

Lesson #5 – Rent from Superhosts whenever possible. You may still encounter a problem, but it is less likely.

Even though we put stock in the Superhost label, there were times when we did not choose a Superhost and had a wonderful experience like at Ryan’s place in Jacksonville, Florida. When we rented from Ryan, he was not a Superhost because his listing was too new.  He is now.

Smoother Sailing

During the rest of the year, we stayed in six more Airbnbs, including a sailboat in Lisbon. All but one host was a Superhost.  Except for some mild seasickness on the boat, all these stays were comfortable and problem-free.

A white sail boat at dock
Our temporary floating home in Lisbon

A toy hedgehog sitting at a sailboat’s wheel
Hedgie settling into life at sea

A word of warning if you stay on a boat. Check before you book to make sure it has snubbers. These are devices that prevent the boat from violently jerking while it is docked. The boat we stayed on did not have them. This wasn’t a problem until our last night. The strong winds caused the boat to jerk hard enough that it kept us awake all night. Luckily we didn’t get seasick, but it was a real threat.

Getting Our Groove

We spent most of 2019 in Latin America and didn’t have any problems with our Airbnb rentals except for renting one that was so close to perfect that it spoiled us for all others. We loved Sara’s Apartment in Medellin. It is spacious and has floor-to-ceiling windows that slide open to a huge balcony with a beautiful view.

Modern living room opened to a balcony in a Medellin Airbnb
The living room and balcony of our Airbnb in Medellin

During 2020 and 2021, we’ve continued to use Airbnb, but for much longer stays because of the pandemic. Like in 2019, they have all been very good.

Our Main Reasons for Using Airbnb

As of this writing we have stayed in twenty-eight Airbnbs. We plan to continue booking through Airbnb because:

  • We can get a comfortable apartment with a full kitchen for much less than a hotel would cost.
  • Most hosts offer discounts for stays of 28 days or longer.
  • The few times we have had issues Airbnb offered support.
  • The quality of accommodations on Airbnb is impressive.
  • We find the platform easy to use.
What We Spend

Our original budget allowed for accommodation costs of $1,000 for four weeks. After our Paris experience, we upped it to $1,400. We usually find a perfectly acceptable place close to attractions for less than this.

In a few cases, we have had to go a little over budget, with $1,600 being the highest. The average amount we spent for a 28-night stay before the pandemic was $1,200.

The Medellin apartment (above) was $1,400 for four weeks. This was our view from our 19th floor rental in San Jose, Costa Rica:

View of a pool from a 19th floor balcony

The building also had an indoor hot tub with a view of the mountains, a great deal at $1,200 for four weeks.

Our Personal Preferences

We are proponents of slow travel who often stay in one city for four weeks or more. As full-rime travelers we are not on vacation, but rather setting up house in a new place. For that reason we look for apartment with these things:

  • A well-stocked kitchen
  • A separate bedroom
  • Comfortable looking furniture in the living room
  • A table and chairs where we can take care of business (and write this blog)
  • Good internet
  • A clothes washer (we don’t really need a dryer). See Laundry on the Road to learn about some of the challenges of doing laundry while traveling full-time.
All Five Tips

Through trial and error, we learned to make Airbnb work for us, and you can too by using these five rules:

1. Do not instant book. Communicate with the host before booking to verify the dates and price and get answers to any questions or concerns you have.

2. Only book a place for the period of time for which you can deal with a less than ideal situation. For us it’s one month, for you it might be different.

3. Avoid hosts who have unexplained cancellations.

4. Document problems upon arrival.

5. Book with Superhosts whenever possible.

More Information

For even more ways to find the best Airbnbs check out this article by dreamstays.com. You might also be interested in our post 12 Ways To Be An Amazing Airbnb Host.

As always, Steve and I would love to hear about your travel experiences.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

Featured photo by Deborah Cortelazzi on Unsplash.com

This post is an update of Lessons From Airbnb, originally published on March 27, 2019.

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20 Quick and Cool Things to See and Do in Budapest

If a trip to Budapest is in your future, lucky you! It is a vibrant and beautiful city with so much to see and do.

If you aren’t planning a visit, maybe seeing all that the city has to offer will push it to the top of your bucket list.

Steve and I arrived in Budapest in March of 2020. As I am writing this fourteen months later, we are still here awaiting an end to the pandemic. There are worse places we could be.

What Should Everyone See In Budapest?

Of course, you will want to see the neo-Gothic confection that is the Hungarian Parliament Building, Vajdahunyad Castle, Buda Castle, and the magical Fisherman’s Bastion.

The Hungarian Parliament Building, Vajdahunyad Castle, Buda Castle, and Fisherman’s Bastion
Clockwise from upper left: The Hungarian Parliament Building, Vajdahunyad Castle, Buda Castle, and Fisherman’s Bastion

You might also visit one of the thermal baths or learn more about Hungary’s turbulent 20th-century history at Terror House or the Holocaust Museum.

The items in this article are things you can see or do in a short amount of time, although if you combined several it will take a few hours.

The Two Sides of Budapest
Budapest is divided in two by the Danube River. The side west of the river is Buda and the side east of the river is Pest. This map shows the districts of Budapest.
Budapest colors numbers2

Districts of Budapest colored”, by Heizler, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

On the Buda Side – District I – Castle District
1. The Budapest Castle Hill Funicular

Budapest funicular ticket office and car

Buda Castle sits on a hill overlooking the Danube. A fun way to get up the hill is on the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular (Budavári Sikló). It is a 150-year-old funicular railway that will take you from Clark Adam Square (Clark Ádám tér) at the end of the Buda side of the Chain Bridge to Buda Castle and back down again. You can purchase a one-way or round-trip ticket at the entrance to the funicular.

Clark Adam Square is at the end of the Chain Bridge. As of this writing, the bridge is undergoing renovation and is closed to pedestrian traffic. It will be closed to all traffic by June 2021. The work is expected to be completed by August 2023.

2. A Statue of King Saint Stephen

Statue of King Stephen near Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest

To the north of Buda Castle, you will find Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástyaand the Matthias Church (Mátyástemplom) . You can also see this elegant statue of King Saint Stephen (Szent István király), the first king of Hungary.  He is also known as Stephen I and is credited with bringing Christianity to Hungary.

You can see the statue near the Matthias Church at Szentháromság tér 2.

3. The Red Hedgehog House

Front of the Red Hedgehog House in Budapest

The Red Hedgehog House (Vörös Sün Ház) is thought to be the oldest building in Budapest (circa 1260). This former inn was also used as a theater and a cabernet/brothel during its long life. The hedgehog, however, didn’t take up residence until the early 19th century.

When we visited, there were tables outside, but because of the pandemic, there wasn’t anything going on. Even so, if you are in the Castle District, it is fun to go on a hunt for the red hedgehog over the front door.

The red hedgehog resides at Hess András tér 3.

4. Listening Ears

If you walk along the Danube River on the Buda side below Buda Castle, you can see this contraption:

Megaphone shaped structure used to detect bombers in WWI

These Air Defense Early Warning Listening Ears were used to hear approaching bombers during World War I. You can read about the listening ears concept in this article about aircraft detection before radar.

5. Another Statue of King Saint Stephen

This statue is located on Gellert Hill overlooking the Danube River at the foot of the Liberty Bridge, which makes for a beautiful photo opportunity. It is about a 30-minute walk from the Castle to this statue.

Statue of King Saint Stephen with a horse overlooking the Liberty Bridge in BudapestKing Saint Stephen looks much less impressive here than in the statue near Fisherman’s Bastion.

On the Buda Side – District II – Rose Hill and Watertown

District II is a large district north of Districts I and XII. It comprises several neighborhoods, including Watertown and Rose Hill.

6. The Tomb of Gül Baba

One day Steve and I decided to explore a prestigious and wealthy area of Budapest called Rose Hill (Rózsadomb). We must have been in the wrong section because we didn’t see much, but on the way back to the Danube River we stumbled upon the Tomb of Gül Baba.

A five photo collage of the Gul Baba site in Budapest

Gül Baba was an Ottoman Dervish from the 16th century. He is honored for his piety and talent as a poet.

The tomb of Gül Baba is the northernmost Islamic pilgrimage site in the world. While the tomb itself may not be of much interest to non-Muslims, the patio and terraced garden are peaceful and beautifully kept.

You will find the tomb at Mecset u. 14. You can also approach the grounds via Gül Baba utca, the steepest street in Budapest.

On the Buda Side – District XII – Highlands

This district is a little bit away from the rest of the Budapest attractions, but in my opinion, well worth the trip. It includes Janos Hill, the highest point in Budapest.

7. The Zugliget Chairlift

Chairlift in the Buda Hills

You can reach Janos Hill (János-hegy) via a 15-minute long chairlift ride. The Zugliget Chairlift (Zugligeti Libegő) starts in the Zugliget neighborhood. You can take bus 291 to reach the chairlift entrance. Tickets are sold from machines at the entrance.

Once you get to the top, you will be well placed to visit Elizabeth Tower and the Children’s Railway (more on both below). There are also several hiking trails in the hills.

The chairlift entrance is at Zugligeti út 97.

8. The Children’s Railway

The Childrens’ Railway (Gyermekvasút) is a railway run almost entirely by children. Only the driver and the supervisors are adults. The age of the students runs from 10 to 14 years old. They must be excellent students to be chosen for this honor.

Two photos of children working on the Children’s Railway BudapestThe Children’s Railway is a narrow-gauge railway that travels through the Buda Hills for over 7 miles. It is the longest child-run railway in the world.

I was surprised to learn that there are many still functioning children’s railways in Russia and other ex-Soviet states and some Eastern European countries. They are remnants of the U.S.S.R., where they were used to train children in the transportation industry and instill the political ideology.

You can buy your tickets on the train, but it is best to have exact change. We did not, so the train had to go to the next station where we were able to buy tickets.

It was difficult to find the railroad from the area at the top of the chairlift. Look for signs saying Gyermekvasút or ask a friendly local.

9. The Elizabeth Lookout Tower

Front view of the Elizabeth Lookout Tower in Budapest

Four photos of the Elizabeth Lookout Tower in Budapest

The delightful multi-tiered Elizabeth Lookout Tower (Erzsébet-kilátó) sits atop Janos Hill. The tower was built in 1910 and rebuilt in the early 2000s. It was named in honor of the much-beloved Queen Elisabeth of Hungary (1837-1898) because she enjoyed visiting the area. You can read about her tragic life here.

Once you get off the chairlift on Janos Hill, you can see the tower to your right. It is a short uphill walk to reach it.

On the Pest Side – District V – Downtown

District V sits along the Danube River on the Pest side opposite District I. The Hungarian Parliament Building is in this district.

10. Bullet Hole Markers

If you head inland from the Hungarian Parliament Building, you can see the Ministry of Agriculture Building. On it, you can see an unusual memorial. It is one of many memorials throughout the city that commemorate the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

This memorial honors one of the events of that Revolution. On October 25th, peaceful protesters gathered in Kossuth Square (Kossuth Tér). Hungarian and Soviet troops opened fire on protesters, and many fled among the columns of the Ministry of Agriculture Building.

A wall with metal balls marking where bullets hit the wall in Budapest

The event is now known as Bloody Thursday. Dozens of markers show where bullets fired at the protesters hit the walls. The exact number of dead is not known, with estimates from 20 to 1,000.

The Ministry of Agriculture is at Kossuth Lajos tér 11.

11. U.S. Presidents in Liberty Square

District V also includes Liberty Square (Szabadság tér), a public area with statues dedicated to freedom and liberty. You may be surprised to find statues of two U.S. presidents: Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr.

Statues of Ronald Reagan and George Bush in Liberty Square, Budapest

The Reagan statue was erected in 2011 to recognize his efforts to help end the Cold War and Russia’s control over the country.

The Bush statue was unveiled in 2020 to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe. Bush visited Budapest in 1989. Here is more information about that visit, including a video of Bush’s speech to the Hungarian people.

As a side note: The U.S. Embassy sits on the eastern side of Liberty Square. The Embassy is surrounded by a high fence and heavily guarded. Quite frankly, I think it looks like a minimum-security prison. This is quite a contrast to the welcoming look of the numerous embassies that line Andrassy Avenue.

12. Two Porcelain Statues in Jozsef Nador Square

Jozsef Nador Square (József Nádor tér) was reconstructed in 2018. As part of this project, two large porcelain statues were added. The first is the Tree of Life by the Herend Porcelain Manufacturer. The second is Hercules Fountain by the Zsolnay Porcelain Manufacturer. A statue of the square’s namesake stands between the two.

Two statues in József Nádor tér in Budapest
Herend Tree of Life and Zsolnay Hercules Bath Fountain

I am amazed that these statues remain undamaged. This is a testament to the respect Hungarians appear to have for their public places.

Jozsef Nador was a member of the House of Habsburg, which ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918. He served as Palatine (a high-level official attached to an imperial or royal court in Europe) to Hungary and is sometimes referred to as the most “Hungarian of the Habsburgs” because of his support of economic reforms, public works, and construction projects that benefitted Hungary.

Jozsef Nador Square is several blocks south of Liberty Square.

13. Elizabeth Square

Collage of four scenes in Elizabeth Square, Budapest

It seems like there is always something going on in Elizabeth Square (Erzsébet tér). The square is easy to spot because it’s the home of the Budapest Eye. There are also statues, green spaces, a small skateboard park, and a playground. There are several bars and restaurants and a large reflecting pool along one side.

This square is two blocks east of Jozsef Nador Square.

On the Pest Side – District VI – Terézváros

District VI begins east of Elizabeth Square and ends at City Park. Its main street is the famed Andrassy Avenue. All of these quick stops can be done on a stroll up (or down) Andrassy.

14. The Millennium Underground Railway

The Millennium Underground Railway (Kisföldalattiis also known as Metro Line 1. It is the second-oldest subway on the European Continent and has operated continually since it opened in 1896.

Underground car parked at Metro station 1 in Budapest
A Line 1 car at the Opera Metro station

It is a short straight run consisting of only 11 stops. It runs under Andrássy Avenue. If you take a ride on this line, be sure to go up and check out the elegant Andrássy Avenue.

If you are near Elizabeth Square you can find an entrance to Metro Line 1 at Deák Ferenc square. Or you can jump on at one of the other stops. Here is some information about Line 1 and a handy map.

15. Művész Kávéház

Exterior and interior views of the Muvesz Coffeehouse in Budapest

If you are exploring along Andrassy Avenue and need a break, you can do worse than the Művész Kávéház. The name translates to Artist Café. Be warned, though, the tables are tiny.

There are many elegant old-world coffee houses in Budapest, as you can see from this article. We have only visited this one since we are not big coffee house people. However, once things get back to normal, we plan on visiting several others, including the New York Palace and Parisi Passage, to bask in their splendor.

Visit this beautiful cafe at Andrássy út 29.

16. The Iron Curtain Monument

If you stroll down Andrassy Avenue or visit the Terror House Museum (also on Andrassy Avenue), you will see the Iron Curtain Monument. It serves as a poignant reminder of the restrictions suffered by many Europeans under Soviet rule.

The monument and the Berlin Wall segment are at Andrássy út 60.

The Iron Curtain Memorial in Budapest

Words on the Iron Curtain Memorial in Budapest
17. A Segment of the Berlin Wall

You can also see a segment of the Berlin Wall in front of the Terror House Museum.

A segment of the Berlin Wall in Budapest

On the Pest Side – District VIII – Palace District
18. The Szabo Ervin Library

The Szabó Ervin Library (Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár) isn’t your average library. As a visitor, you can pay a small fee to enjoy the neo-baroque décor. As you move through the rooms, you will walk among students who are more focused on their work than the beauty around them.

A gold and white room in the Szabo Ervin Library in Budapest

A dark, ornate room in the Szabo Ervin Library in Budapest

The building, called The Wenckheim Palace, was a part-time home for Count Frigyes Wenckheim and his family. Upon his death in 1927, his family sold the palace to the government, which made it part of the public library system.

Visit the library at Szabó Ervin tér 1.

On the Pest Side – District XIV -Zugló

At the Northern end of Andrassy Avenue, you will come upon Heroes’ Square and City Park. The park is home to the Vajdahunyad Castle. The zoo is nearby. In addition to marveling at the facades of the castle, here are two fun things to do:

19. A Statue of Anonymous

Statue of Anonymous in City Park, Budapest

Anonymous was the unknown chronicler at the court of King Bela III (1148-1196). Anonymous is believed to have written the history of the early Hungarians. Writers often stroke his pen for inspiration.

You can see this statue in City Park (Városliget) near Vajdahunyad Castle. There is a smaller one in the Hungarian National Gallery, the art museum in Buda Castle.

20. Playground in City Park

Two views of the playground in City Park, Budapest

If you are traveling with children, you can become their hero by taking them to the 140,000 sq. ft. (13,000 sq.m.) playground in City Park (Városliget). The park opened in the fall of 2019 and features 50 pieces of equipment for children of all ages and abilities. It makes you want to be a kid again.

The Main Playground is situated in the southeastern part of the Városliget, in an area near the intersection of Dózsa György Road and Ajtósi Dürer Row

Quick Tips for Navigating Budapest
  • Building numbers come after the street name.
  • The postal code (think zip code) consists of 4 digits. The middle two identify the district. So postal code 1094 is in district 9.
  • Street signs are easy to find and most have the district number on them. They are on the buildings near the street corners.

Two street signs
The older signs have the district number, the newer ones also have the district’s name. Both of these are in District 9. (Kerület means district)

Even More to See and Do in Budapest

One of our favorite things to do in any city is walk for hours, taking in the beauty and uniqueness of the place. The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos will give you a taste of the elegance of this city.

Check out The Funky Side of Budapest to get an idea of some of the lighthearted things you can experience on your visit.

As always, Steve and I would love to hear about your Budapest experiences.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

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Too Many Languages: Challenges of Nomad Life

Many years ago, I was picking out pastries in a bakery in Paris with my older daughter Stephanie. When the clerk pointed to a pastry, I confidently replied, “por favor.” My daughter quietly said, “Mom, that’s Spanish.”

Looking back, I have to wonder if this error was a harbinger of things to come?

Too Many Countries, Too Many Languages

Steve and I spent eight months in Europe in 2018. During that time, we visited seven countries, and each one had a different language. Even if we wanted to, there was no way we could learn the languages of all these countries in such a short time.

We did the next best thing. We learned the basics: hello, please, thank you, goodbye. This, along with Google Translate and pantomime, was enough for us to function.

We mainly visited large cities, and many of the people we interacted with spoke English. This certainly made our lives easier, but it also meant that we did not have to work very hard at learning the local language. In the words of the TV character Adrian Monk, “It’s a blessing and a curse.”

The table below shows the percent of people who were proficient in English in 2019 in the counties we visited. The data is from Statista.

CountryPercent
Bulgaria58%
Croatia60%
France55%
Portugal60%
Romania60%
Spain56%
Portuguese is Not Gender Neutral

You probably know that some languages assign genders to their words. Portuguese is one of those. So when I learned that the word for thank you is obrigada (feminine) or obrigado (masculine), I assumed that the gender I used would be based on to whom I was speaking.

I was wrong. Unfortunately, we were several weeks into our travels around Portugal when I learned this. Until then, I had been saying obrigado to men. A few of them replied with strange looks. But one man’s reaction really stuck with me. His smile was bordering on a laugh.

It wasn’t until our third week in Portugal that somebody set me straight. We purchased tickets at a museum, and I confidently responded with obrigado because he was male. The clerk politely told me that as a woman, I should always say obrigada. I thanked him for letting me know.

If you are wondering if you should correct a person who makes a mistake while speaking a language that is obviously not their native language, my vote is yes. If you do it politely, it will most likely be appreciated. I was certainly grateful to that clerk.

Immersion Subversion

You might think that people who spent ten months in Spanish-speaking countries, as Steve and I did in 2019, would become quite adept at speaking Spanish. That wasn’t the case for us. We didn’t meet as many natives who spoke English as we had in Europe. Instead, we relied on Google Translate and therefore failed to pick up more than the basics.

While we were in Latin America, I spent time on Rosetta Stone lessons. Now that I have plenty of time on my hands because of the pandemic, I am continuing to learn Spanish using Duolingo. Both programs have helped me recognize written words, but speaking and listening are still a long way off.

Why Don’t You Understand Me?

Based on my limited experience with foreign languages, I noticed a distinct difference between the way English speakers (at least those from the U.S.) act when someone doesn’t understand us and how people in Latin America act when the listener does not understand.

In Latin America, we noticed that if we spoke a few words of Spanish the listener would assume we spoke Spanish well enough to converse. I sat through more than a few awkward bus rides where my seatmate would go on and on in Spanish. Saying “No hablo Espanol” usually had no effect. All I could do was smile, nod, and try not to look too dim-witted.

It seems as if Spanish speakers believe if they just keep speaking in Spanish, the listener will suddenly realize he understands Spanish perfectly well.

On the other hand, we English speakers tend to repeat a word or phrase several times, often getting a little louder each time. Surely if the person we are speaking to would just listen, he would understand what we are saying.

The Other Izquierda

The opposite of the above occurred in Arequipa, Peru. Steve and I were in a taxi heading to the pick-up point for the next leg of our Peru Hop bus tour. Our driver did not have a GPS map and did not know exactly where we wanted to go. My map showed our destination, which was a few streets to the left.

Coincidently, I had just learned the Spanish words for left and right over the previous few days. So I said izquierda, the feminine version of left. He kept driving straight and looking confused. I repeated the word izquierda several times to no avail (being careful not to get louder each time). Eventually, he managed to get the point and headed in the general direction we needed to go.

I relayed this story to a group of people. Some of them suggested that there may have been a regional difference in the word for left. That may be, but a Google search shows izquierda and izquiedo as the only Spanish words for left.

It is very frustrating when you get the nerve to speak a foreign language to a native speaker, believe you are using the right words and pronouncing them well, and you get nothing.

Letters May Not Sound the Way You Expect

One of the things we enjoy eating in Budapest is…wait for it…Subway subs. Yes, I know they are not Hungarian. And quite frankly, I never ate them in the U.S. But here, they seem fresher and remind us of home. That leads me to my next language error.

I thought I would impress the friendly staff at Subway if I ordered my sub in Hungarian. Since I wanted a ham sub, it seemed easy enough. The word for ham is sonka. I could handle that.

My plan failed miserably. The woman behind the counter had no idea what I was saying, so I reverted to English. Fortunately, she understood that very well.

I later found out that the letter s is pronounced like sh. I should have asked for shonka. So when you are heading to the capital of Hungary, you are going to Budapest. Once you arrive, you are in Budapesht.

That’s One Interesting Alphabet

The Hungarian Alphabet can be intimidating as it has 44 letters and 13 vowels. But it is a phonetic language, so once you learn each letter’s pronunciation, you can pronounce any Hungarian word.

Several Hungarian letters have more than one character! CS, DZ, DZS,   GY, LY, NY, TY, SZ, and ZS are all letters in the Hungarian alphabet.

But We’re Always Learning

Steve and I were exploring the Cinkota Cemetery when Steve pointed out the word család on a tombstone. He commented on how it must have been a large family since it was on so many grave markers. We continued to explore, saying “C Salad Family” each time we saw it. After a while, it seemed like there were way too many családs, so I looked it up. It means family and is pronounced Chaw lad because the letter CS is pronounced like CH in English. See what I mean?

Learning that word led to one of my prouder foreign language moments. When we finished at the Cinkota Cemetery, we went to the Old Cinkota Cemetery. It is small and hard to find. The remaining grave markers are covered with vegetation.

An ivy-covered grave marker
One of the remaining grave markers at the Old Cinkota Cemetery

As we were leaving the cemetery, we saw a man walking towards us from the church next door. He asked us something in Hungarian. Surprisingly I was able to pick up one word in his question: család. He was asking if we were looking for family in the cemetery. I was so proud that I could understand his question.

I told him we weren’t. Relying on gestures, he invited Steve and me into the church. We had a lovely visit despite the language barrier. It turned out he is the current pastor, as he conveyed to us by pointing to his name at the top of a long list of pastors. Before we left, he gifted us with two hand-embroidered bags.

A church and two embroidered pouches
The Lutheran church next to the Old Cinkota Cemetery (Cinkotai Evangélikus Egyházközség temploma) and the two cross-stitched bags
Let’s Throw in Another Language

Shopping in a place where you don’t know the language adds time and stress to your trip. It can also lead to mistakes. For that reason, we make sure we take time all the time we need to pick out our purchases. What we didn’t expect in Hungary was to have to translate from German.

One popular drug chain in Budapest is D.M. This is a German company that sells cosmetics, health care items, and household products. So when you shop there, you may be translating from Hungarian or German. Good grief.

How Did He Know That Word?

Steve and I were at a pharmacy while he picked up some medication. Steve noticed the young man at the next window was listening to his conversation. In English, the clerk asked Steve if he knew how to use the medication. Being the smart-ass he is, he replied, “yeah, as a suppository.” The guy at the next window chuckled.

That store did not have the pills Steve needed. As we left the store, the young man stopped us and asked if he could help us find a store that carries them. I was surprised to learn that he was a Hungarian native and was awed that he knew the word suppository.

It Got the Job Done

Perhaps the most humorous language experience I had was in Bucharest, Romania. Steve and I were spending the day at one of our favorite places,  Therme Bucuresti. One of the many services they offered was hairstyling, so while Steve was relaxing in the mineral baths, I got my haircut. I wanted to find out how much it would cost for Steve to get his cut. My cell phone was safely tucked away in my locker, so I couldn’t use Google Translate.

I tried several ways to get the question across. The woman helping me was patient but did not understand what I was asking. I finally resorted to pantomime.

I made a fist and held it in front of my crotch. She immediately understood what I was asking, and I got the price.

Steve got a nice trim. I got a funny story.

Misc Observations
Galapagos sign

Sometimes other people mess up. We have seen more than a few poor translations in museums. Despite the less-than-ideal translations, we always appreciate when English translations are available.

This sign on a travel agency in Puerto Ayora in the Galapagos Islands always makes me laugh.

A sign reading “We spoke English.”
A poor translation in the Galapagos Islands
My Favorite Foreign Word

Romanian was one of the easier languages for Steve and me to decipher because it is a Romance language that has a lot in common with languages such as French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. There was one word we repeatedly heard in Bucharest: Plăcere (pronounced pleasz  air ae). While it is not the official word for thank you, it was used that way.

Be sure to share some of your language blunders and victories in the comments section below.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

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Oops! Did We Do That? Our Biggest Travel Mistakes

As Steve and I prepared to travel full-time, we knew that we would make mistakes. Fortunately, we have been able to keep them to a minimum, partly due to luck, partly due to the graciousness of others, and partly because we spent more than half a year under lockdown.

Here are the biggest travel mistakes and near-misses we had during our first three years of full-time travel.

All money is in U.S. dollars unless otherwise stated.

The Schengen What?

We weren’t prepared for our first near-miss to happen before we even left the U.S. We only had three months to go before we set out for our travels when we first heard of the Schengen Area. We discovered that we were only allowed to spend 90 days in this group of 26 countries and would then have to leave the Schengen Area for at least 90 days.

Cue the cold sweats. We had already booked three months’ worth of nonrefundable stays in Barcelona and Paris. I broke out the calendar and started counting the days. Then I let out a huge sigh of relief. We had booked a total of 89 days!

The fact that we had procrastinated in deciding on our destination after Paris saved us. We had been considering Prague. If we had booked a month-long stay there or anywhere else in the Schengen Area through Airbnb, we would have lost that money.

Stay on the Bus

We started our journey on a Transatlantic cruise from Florida to Barcelona. One of our ports-of-call was Funchal, Portugal. We were looking forward to riding the famous wicker toboggans there. Here is a video of that exhilarating experience.

Being new to foreign travel, we decided to buy hop-on-hop-off tickets through the cruise company even though it was more expensive than doing it on our own.

We got on the bus, and at the second stop, we saw the sign for the gondola leading to the toboggans, so we hopped off the bus.

We marveled at the scenery as we rode the gondola up the mountain and had a thrilling toboggan ride. Then we spent close to an hour painstakingly making our way down a very steep hill while looking for another hop-on-hop-off bus stop. We never found one, but at least we got back to our ship.

We ended up spending $80 to go two stops on the bus.

View of garden and mountains in Funchal
We did get to spend some time enjoying the Madeira Botanical Garden during our day in Funchal.

They Weren’t Kidding About Barcelona

When you repeatedly hear that you are in the pickpocket capital of the world, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY!

Just a week into our stay in Barcelona, Steve was pickpocketed on a metro car. He thought his wallet and passport would be safe in his front pants pocket. It was not.

This mistake was more costly in time and frustration than in money. It involved treks to three police stations and a trip to the U.S. Consulate. You can read all the juicy details in Pickpocketed in Barcelona and get some helpful hints, so you don’t become a victim.

The thieves got away with Steve’s passport, several bank cards, and 40 Euro (about $48). Luckily Steve’s passport was found, which saved us the $145 replacement fee. Our bank cards were replaced within a few days, and our credit card company denied the $900 shoe purchase the thieves attempted.

Buyer Beware

By the second month of our travels, we thought we had SIM cards all figured out. After getting off the plane in Paris, we headed to the post office, which was in the airport, and spent 40 Euros (about $48) on 2 SIM cards. The man who helped us did not speak English, and we do not speak French. Even so, we managed to get our SIM cards installed.

We soon discovered that they were only good for making calls and didn’t include data. We replaced them with less expensive cards that had everything we needed. Even though we never used them, we carried them around for several months until we finally threw them away.

Read the Train Ticket (Read it Well)

The most costly mistake in our first year of travel involved the Eurostar train from Paris to London. We were heading to London with our daughter Laura and her friend. I had arranged for all of us to get there via the Chunnel.

Our experience with train travel was limited to two short journeys within France. In both cases, we showed up at the station about fifteen minutes before our train was scheduled to leave. There were no security checks, and no one asked to see our tickets. These two experiences made us lackadaisical about the train trip to London.

Armed with our Chunnel tickets, the four of us traveled from Strasbourg to Paris without any problem. We arrived at the Paris station with an hour and a half to spare before our train to London would leave, so we went out for a delicious breakfast. We arrived back at the train station to find that we had missed the check-in time for our journey and we would have to book a later one. The cost was $230.

I had neglected to read the fine print on the tickets that clearly stated the check-in cutoff time. As one lady pointed out, the train was entering a different country so, the requirements were similar to airline travel.

Actually, I believe the difference was that we were leaving the Schengen Area, which allows for movement among the 26 Schengen countries without border checks. The United Kingdom is not part of the Schengen Area.

Luckily the trains from Paris to London run every hour, so it didn’t set us back too much time-wise, but our wallet sure wasn’t happy. In addition to reading the ticket, in the future, we will check in as soon as possible and then eat.

A large statue of Jeff Goldblum with the Tower Bridge in the background
It’s not every day you get to see a bigger-than-life Jeff Goldblum and the Tower Bridge in one place.

A Near-Miss with Booking.com

We were able to avoid another costly mistake thanks to the goodwill of Booking.com. We had booked an Airbnb for a one-month stay in Strasbourg, France. The host canceled the reservation only eleven days before we were due to arrive.

It was the height of the tourist season, and we were not having any luck finding a place to stay for a whole month. We were able to piece together three hotels through Booking.com that would provide housing for a month. Then we found an Airbnb that was available for the month. We canceled two of the hotel reservations in time but missed the third by one day. This would have been our most costly mistake at $934.

We requested that they waive the fee, saying we had overbooked. We were so thankful when we woke up the next morning to find that Booking.com had waived the penalty.

The Ponts Couvert on Strasbourg, France
The Ponts Couvert in Strasbourg

Know the Paris Metro Rules

Our daughter Laura and her friend visited us in Strasbourg and then traveled with us to London. From there, they spent another week in Dublin and Paris. During their trip to the Paris airport to fly home, they learned that if you travel enough, something will trip you up.

They chose to take the Metro from their hostel to the airport. The Metro Police stopped them and told them they did not have the proper tickets for the zone they were in. The cost of this innocent mistake was $80 each.

A word of warning for Paris travelers: the Paris Metro Police are vigilant. Be sure you keep your ticket on you for the entire journey and understand the zones and related fares.

We Can Tell Time, Really

All the above mistakes happened before and during our first year of travel. In 2019, our second year of travel, we had only one costly mistake. To this day, we aren’t sure how it happened.

Steve and I had made reservations to fly from Buenos Aires to Cordoba. As always, we both checked the details before we finalized our purchase. The day before our flight, I was reviewing all our travel details when I did a double-take. Our flight wasn’t at 9 a.m., it was at 9 p.m!

We could have taken that flight, but that would have meant landing in a new city close to midnight. And we would have had to spend a whole day in Buenos Aires with all our luggage and nowhere to stay.

Changing the flight left us $175 poorer. To add insult to injury, the change fee was $60 higher than the original cost of the flight.

It’s All Worth It

Let’s face it, mistakes happen. That’s life. Why would travel life be any different? Considering that we’ve traveled to 42 cities in the past three years, I think we did a pretty good job. We made all our flights, only missed one train reservation, always had a place to stay in advance, and never went hungry. We also had luck on our side.

Steve and I would love to hear about mistakes you have made while traveling. Come on; I’m sure you have a few. 😀

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

Featured image by Estee Janssens on Unsplash.com

This post was originally published on April 20, 2019.

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The Amazing Amaru Bioparque: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

If you enjoy hiking and love animals, Cuenca, Ecuador, has the perfect place for you. It’s the Amaru Bioparque. You can spend hours there, working your way up and down the side of a mountain as you visit hundreds of species of animals.

Steve and I were delighted with Amaru Bioparque when we visited Cuenca in 2019. We spent a total of eight hours there over two days. We have many fond memories of our ten months in Latin America, and this was among our favorites. You can read about them in Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences.

What is Amaru Bioparque?

It is a sanctuary for animals that have been rescued and, despite rehabilitation, cannot be returned to the wild. At Amaru, these animals can live out their lives in a natural environment.

Amaru receives about 450 animals every year. They come from illegal hunting, illegal trafficking of species, seizures by the National Police, and donations by civilians. The large number of animals received at Amaru is because it is the only wildlife clinic in the south of the country.

From the Amaru Bioparque website:

“We are an environmental zoological organization that offers a unique experience with the animals and plants that are a part of Ecuador´s natural and cultural richness. We promote and run education, communication, recreation, and research programs to foster the conservation of Ecuador’s biodiversity.”

The setting is rustic. You will hike over 2 km of dirt paths carved into the side of a mountain as you learn about the animals and their habitats. You will traverse hills and less-than-ideal steps cut into the dirt. Sturdy shoes are a must.

A dirt path surrounded by vegetation in Amaru Bioparque
This is a typical path in the park.

There are many signs throughout the park with information about the animals and their native environments. When we visited, most of the signs were in Spanish, but a few had English translations. The lack of English wasn’t a problem. We could understand quite a bit, and when we couldn’t, we used Google Translate.

Arriving at Amaru

Amaru is located about 5 miles (7 km) from the historic center of Cuenca.  It is easy to get to the park via car or taxi. The round trip cost for taxis was US$12.00 in 2019. When you are finished with your visit, the ticket booth attendant can arrange a taxi for you.

You can also get near the park by bus, but you will have quite an uphill walk before you reach the entrance. I recommend a taxi over a bus.

You will probably want to take a few minutes to enjoy the views of the city as you enter the park.

Overview of Cuenca from Amaru Bioparque

When you arrive, you should receive a map. Pay attention to it. It shows the path through the park. On our first visit, Steve and I failed to do this. After about an hour and a half, we looked at the map and realized that we were only a quarter of the way through. Since it was late afternoon by that time, we backtracked our way to the entrance.

Map of Amaru Bioparque

Here is the link to the map on the website.

We returned two weeks later so we could see the rest of the park. Now older and wiser, we arrived early in the morning and paid more attention to the map.

You cannot take food, pets, or large bags into the park. I was allowed to take my backpack because it was small, but it had to be inspected first. There is a place about halfway along the trail where you can buy drinks and snacks. There are some restrooms as well.

Some of the Animals You Will See
Andean Bear

One of the first animals you will encounter is the Andean or Spectacled Bear. The six Andean Bears that currently live in Amaru have a habitat that is greater than 37,000 sq. ft. (3,500 sq. meters). They are solitary animals. We only saw one each time we visited.

Andean or Spectacled Bear in Amaru Bioparque

White Capuchin Monkey

You can see these adorable monkeys (the park has four) traveling through wire tubes set among the trees. There is no guarantee you won’t get an unwanted shower.

A White Capuchin Monkey in a wire tube holding a plastic bottle at Amaru Bioparque

Squirrel Monkey

Delightful squirrel monkeys roam free in the park. As you might expect, they love to hang around the restaurant area, but I didn’t see them bothering anyone.

Two photos of a Squirrel Monkey at Amaru Bioparque

Capybara

The park has five capybaras, the largest rodent in the world. I always love seeing them.

Close up of a capybara with its eyes closed at Amaru Bioparque

Cuchucho

This cuchucho is a native to Lain America and is not threatened.

Cuchucho in Amaru Bioparque

Oncilla

This little cutie is a Latin American native and the smallest feline in Ecuador.

Oncilla at Amaru Bioparque

African Lion

As we worked our way through the park, we saw many familiar animals and many we had never heard of. But the most unexpected was the African Lion. After all, this is a park dedicated to preserving Ecuadorian biodiversity.

It turns out that Amaru currently has nine African Lions. Here is the story of two of them.

A female lion seen through a fence at Amaru Bioparque

Birds of the Tropical Aviary

The tropical aviary was a delight, with colorful, inquisitive birds everywhere. The birds are free within the aviary, and it was fun to watch the White-Throated Toucan hop along a fence.

Four photos of tropical birds
Five of the many tropical birds you can visit with including a Blue-Headed Parrot (upper left) and White-Throated Toucan (lower left).
Andean Condor

He may not be pretty, but this native of the Andes provides a useful service as a scavenger. The Andean Condor is one of the largest flying birds in the world. His wingspan can reach over 10 ft (3.3 m). The condor is the national bird of Ecuador and even graces its flag. Amaru has two Andean Condors, a male and a female.

An Andean Condor looking down from his cage at Amaru Bioparque

Carunculated Caracara

This bird of prey is a native of Ecuador and lives in parts of the Andes Mountains.

A Carunculated Caracara at Amaru Bioparque

African Clawed Frog or Ghost Frog

These are natives of Africa who were brought to Ecuador as pets. I loved watching them float gracefully, as you can see in this video:

American Bullfrog

These bullfrogs are native to North America and are an invasive species in Ecuador.

Two American Bullfrogs in a vegetation filled pond

Emerald Tree Boa

Snakes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but this boa is non-poisonous and looks pretty chill.

An Emerald Tree Boa resting on a tree branch at Amaru Bioparque

I hope you enjoyed meeting just a few of the many species of animals that call Amaru Bioparque home.

The Amaru Bioparque website has a lot of information about the animals in its care. The site has an option for English, but it didn’t work on all the pages. I found it best to Google “Amaru Bioparque” and choose “Translate This Page” so you get every page in English.

Helpful Hints

As of this writing, the park appears to be open. It is open every day except Christmas day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. As always, you should verify this information before visiting.

A visit to Amaru is a real bargain. It costs US$ 6.00 for an adult. There are discounts for people under 18 and over 65. The U.S. dollar is the official currency of Ecuador.

In addition to sturdy shoes or boots, be sure to have sunblock and a hat or umbrella (it is Ecuador, after all).

The park is not wheelchair accessible or stroller friendly.

It is best to avoid visiting for a few days after a heavy rain. The paths can become slippery.

The Amaru website suggests you allow 2 hours for your visit. Other articles recommend 4-6 hours. I don’t think 2 hours is anywhere near long enough. We visited twice and spent a total of 8 hours.

The website lists several educational demonstrations that take place on weekends and holidays. I cannot comment on them since both our visits were on weekdays. Also, I would assume that the demonstrations are in Spanish.

A Volunteer Opportunity

If Amaru is your type of place, you may want to look into volunteering there. They require a minimum two-week commitment. Wouldn’t that be a fulfilling experience? You can find information about volunteering on the website under Support Us.

Have you been to Amaru Bioparque? We’d love to hear what you thought about it in the comments below.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

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Laundry on the Road: Challenges of Nomad Life

What’s the biggest challenge of nomad life? The language barrier? Missing family and friends back home? Boring footwear? Yes, yes, and yes. But perhaps the biggest challenge is laundry.

As a full-time traveler, I have dealt with possessed washers, a myriad of drying setups, and excess laundry soap issues.

I have learned that clothes dryers are not common outside of the U.S. You can read about clothes drying differences in this article by Real Simple.

Five pair of jeans hanging on a clothesline
As a nomad, you never know where you might end up hanging your clothes. Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash.com.

But I have not learned how to determine the correct amount of detergent for each machine, so I usually end up running them through a second time without detergent.

Here is a recap of our laundry experiences in our first three years of full-time travel. Future nomads, you’ve been warned.

We spent most of 2018 in Europe, and Barcelona was the first city we visited. As we checked out our apartment, Steve said, “Isn’t there supposed to be a washing machine?”

We didn’t see one in the apartment, so I sent a message to our Airbnb hosts. They replied, “the washing machine is in (sic) the roof.” A quick check told us that yes, it was indeed “in the roof.”

Our hosts stopped by to show us how it worked, and it seemed simple enough. But that washer had it in for me. I would press button after button, but it wouldn’t start. However, if I unplugged it and plugged it back in, we were good to go.

Our second city was Paris. The city of lights and high prices. Our apartment was too tiny for a washing machine, so we used the laundromat down the street. I know it was Paris, but $80 to do laundry for one month still seems expensive to me.

These first two experiences taught us to make sure that any apartment we rent not only has a washer but that it is inside the apartment.

The downside of nomad life is that you must constantly adapt. The upside is that you don’t have to deal with any inconvenience too long and, most importantly, you aren’t the one responsible when something breaks.

We were staying at a large building on the Black Sea coast in Byala, Bulgaria. It was after tourist season, and we had the entire building to ourselves (think The Shining without the snow). I started a load of laundry, and the washer immediately started leaking. And by leaking, I mean gushing. Suds quickly covered the kitchen. I shut it off, and we commenced cleanup.

Our host had the perfect solution. He told us to use the washer in the apartment next door. The door was unlocked, so we were able to walk right in and finish our laundry. Don’t you love it when things work out so easily?

Everything went well for the rest of the year until we got to Lisbon.

We spent two weeks on a sailboat, so we did not have a washer. No problem. There was a laundromat a short walk away. It was spotless and had brand new appliances. And we were the only ones there.

I confidently tossed a Tide Pod in each machine, threw the laundry in them, and sat down. Then I noticed a sign that said “Do not add soap, it is included” taped over the soap dispenser. Oops.

By the time we got to Latin America in 2019, we had the whole laundry thing down pretty well. All of our apartments had a washing machine. A few of them had a dryer. Those that didn’t had either a drying rack or a place to hang them outside, except in the Galápagos Islands.

Because the choice of apartments in our price range was slim and none of them included a washer, we figured we would go to a laundromat. But as we explored the town of Puerto Ayora, we didn’t see any laundromats. We did see several signs for lavanderias, places where your laundry is done for you.

I felt odd delivering a bag of dirty clothes to a stranger, which is funny since I am no stranger to dry cleaning. I was also concerned that we might not get our own clothes back.  So I made a list of everything we dropped off.

I’m happy to report all of our clothes were returned to us clean and fresh at a cost of $8 per week. Now I want this service in every city.

Our regular readers will be familiar with our prolonged stay in Bansko, Bulgaria, in early 2020 because of Steve’s skiing accident. When he left the hospital, we moved to a holiday resort outside of town since it was the only place I could find where he could be brought in on a stretcher. You can read about those experiences in Hospitalized in Bulgaria and Bansko, Bulgaria, Not The Trip We’d Hoped For.

The resort provided a laundry service which consisted of filling one large bag with laundry for a set fee. If memory serves, it cost $US30 for one bag of laundry.

Because we have very few clothes, I didn’t think it would be worth the cost. I probably wouldn’t even fill half the bag. So frugal me decided to wash by hand.

It was a good thing Steve was bedridden since every available surface outside of the bedroom was covered in sopping wet clothes. I learned how effective towel warmers and radiators could be for drying.

A white bathroom with a shiny silver towel warmer
A towel warmer like the silver one in this photo does a great job of drying clothes. Photo by midascode on Pixabay.com.

Once we were able to move on from Bansko, we headed to Budapest. Our first Airbnb had a washer in the bathroom. Just a few minutes into the first cycle, it started to do a lively dance across the floor and proceeded to knock the toilet bowl to the side. Because why would anyone actually bolt the toilet to the floor?

Steve took a look and discovered that the transportation bolts had not been removed. Even after he removed them, it still jumped. Even after a plumber supposedly fixed it, it still jumped.

So I developed a routine. I would start the washer, set a timer, and run to the machine as each spin cycle started so that I could hold the machine in place.

As if that wasn’t fun enough, after I washed the first load of clothes, I looked for a place to dry them. I didn’t see a drying stand. There wasn’t a towel dryer in the bathroom. The shower curtain rod was too weak and too high to be of any help. I even looked on the interior balcony hoping to find a clothesline, but there was nothing. I messaged the host, and he delivered a drying stand the following day. To this day, I wonder where the guests that came before us dried their clothes.

A clothes drying rack with blue shirts
I have come to prefer drying this way over an electric dryer: fewer wrinkles and no rush to put the clothes away.

After seven months in the Budapest apartment, we moved across town. We are still in this apartment riding out the pandemic.

I’m happy to report that the washer in the new apartment is well-behaved. No dancing! And it has a drying stand and a towel warmer. There was even a nearly full bottle of laundry soap with an adorable bear on the front. Everything was going well on the laundry front. Our clothes looked good. They smelled good. And they were really soft.

After several weeks the detergent bottle was approaching empty. I showed it to Steve so he could buy a new one. He then discovered that I had been “washing” our clothes in fabric conditioner. Oops.

No doubt, our laundry challenges will continue once we resume our travels. Laundry challenges are just one example of how full-time travel doesn’t mean full-time fun. But I am willing to put up with laundry frustrations if it means I can continue to explore this big, beautiful world.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

Featured image by Elena Rabkina on Unsplash.com

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12 Things You’ll Love Doing In Cuenca, Ecuador

In June 2019, we were planning our next stop after Quito, Ecuador, when a new name came up. Cuenca. We had never heard of it. We decided to give it a try because some of the places we have enjoyed the most are the ones we had never heard of. We are glad we did.

After spending four weeks in Quito, Cuenca was a relaxing change. It is far less crowded, with about 330,000 people compared to 1.6 million in Quito. It has a lot of traffic, but not nearly as much as Quito, and the pollution is not as bad, although the older blue buses spew a considerable amount of black exhaust.

Over four weeks, we fell in love with the architecture, history, and natural beauty of Cuenca. Below are twelve things you can do in Cuenca that will hopefully make you fall in love with the charming city.


A Little About Cuenca
*Cuenca is Ecuador’s third-largest city after Guayaquil and the capital of Quito.
*The official name of the city is Santa Ana de los Cuatro Ríos de Cuenca. Cuatros Rios translates to four rivers. A nod to the fact that the city has four rivers.
*Cuenca is 292 miles (470 km) south of the capital of Quito.
*You can fly there from Quito inexpensively in less than one hour (we paid $US50 per person in 2019).
*Like Quito, Cuenca is nestled in the Andes Mountains and may require time to acclimate to the altitude of 8,400 feet (2,560 meters) if you are coming from a much lower elevation.
*The U.S. dollar is the official currency of Ecuador and has been since 2000. It is so nice not to have to worry about exchange rates or getting local currency.
*Very few of the people we met spoke English, but everyone was patient as we translated.
*Cuenca is a walkable city, and taxis are abundant and affordable.
*Cuenca is not far from the equator, so the temperatures don’t vary much throughout the year. Daily highs average 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius). Daily lows average 51 degrees Fahrenheit (~10 degrees Celsius).
*Apartments generally don’t have heat. We ended up buying a small space heater.
*There is also a small city in Spain named Cuenca.

Note: All money is in USD.

1. Hike Through Amaru Biopark

Amaru Biopark is much more than a zoo. This attraction is full of animals that have been rescued and, despite rehabilitation, cannot be returned to the wild.

You will hike over 2 km of dirt paths while learning about these animals. Be warned that the park is on the side of a mountain. You have to traverse hills and less-than-ideal steps cut into the dirt. Sturdy shoes are a must.

You should receive a map as you enter the park. Pay attention to it. It shows the path through the park. On our first visit, Steve and I failed to do this. After an hour and a half, we looked at the map and realized that we were only a quarter of the way through. Since it was late afternoon by that time, we backtracked our way to the entrance. We returned another day, and between our two visits we spent a total of eight hours in the park. There is so much to see.

Here are just a few of the many animals we enjoyed:

A Jaguar standing on a log
A beautiful jaguar

A bear standing by a pond
An Andean or Spectacled Bear

A Capuchin Monkey walking through a wire tunnel
Capuchin Monkeys move throughout the park through wire tunnels.

In addition to the Capuchin Monkeys frolicking above you, Squirrel Monkeys roam free in the park.

You can read about Amaru in more detail in The Amazing Amaru Bioparque.

2. Peruse Museo Pumapungo

At the edge of the old town, you will see two large grey, modern-looking buildings. One is the Banco Central Del Ecuador, and the other is the Museo Pumapungo (boy, is that fun to say).

Museo Pumapungo consists of a new and beautiful building filled with artifacts and displays highlighting Ecuador’s geographic regions. There are several things to see behind the museum, too, including the ruins of an Incan military post, a small botanical garden, and a bird rescue center.

Beware, there is no photography allowed in the museum. When we visited, most of the plaques were only in Spanish. Even though we have a translator on our phones, we did not feel comfortable using it since it would have looked like we were taking pictures.

For our second visit, we hired a guide (independent of the museum) who explained what we were looking at. We learned a lot in that two hours, and it was well worth the $35. It was interesting that the one section that was in English was about the indigenous Shuar and their head-shrinking practices and beliefs.

The ruins were underwhelming since, in the past, they were cannibalized by locals who took the stones to use as building material. But don’t skip this part. In addition to the botanical garden and aviary, on most days there is a herd of llamas lazily eating the grass. They are used to being photographed by the visitors.

A woman kneeling next to a llama
Hedgie and I making friends with one of the resident llamas.

3. Learn About Panama Hats at Homer Ortega Hats

Did you know that despite their name, Panama hats are not from Panama? They are from Ecuador. And Cuenca is one of the largest producers.

You can learn a lot about the history and production of Panama hats during a tour of the Homer Ortega Hat Factory.

A man working a machine in a hat factory and the finished product
Part of the hat making process and some of the finished product

And yes, I know, learning about hat making isn’t high on your bucket list. But the tour was interesting, and they have a killer showroom where you can pick out your very own Panama hat.

Hats in a display case
Not your typical Panama hats.

Panama Hat Fast Facts
*The hats are made of a straw called toquilla.
*The process of making the hats is on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
*The name “Panama hat” came about because Americans traveling through the Panama Canal to California during the Gold Rush often wore them.
*It was reinforced when President Teddy Roosevelt posed at the Panama Canal in 1906 while wearing one of the hats.
*The quality and price of a hat depend on the fineness of the weave and the intricacy of the pattern.
*The finest hats can take up to eight months to weave.

4. Marvel at the New Cathedral (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception)

Three bule and white domes on the New Cathedral
The domes

You can spot the three blue and white domes of the New Cathedral from many places in the city. The cathedral’s formal name is the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción). It is referred to as the New Cathedral because it is only a little over a century old. Construction on it began in 1885 and was completed in 1967.

Man and woman standing in front of the New Cathedral
Steve and me in front of the New Cathedral

Stained glass window and statues on the front of a cathedral
A close up of a part of the cathedral facing Parque Calderon

This is one of the largest cathedrals in Latin America, but it doesn’t have any bells. That is because there were supposed to be two towers on the cathedral. Because of structural issues, it was determined that the building could not support these towers, so they were never built. You can take the spiral stairs up to the roof for a small fee.

5. Stroll Along the Tomebamba River (Rio Tomebamba)

I’ll be the first to admit when I read a travel blog, and it says “stroll through (insert area here)” or “relax at (insert name of café here),” it feels like a cop-out.

However, I will make an exception for the pedestrian path that runs along the Tomebamba River in Cuenca. It holds a special place in my heart because we walked part of it many times to get from our apartment near Museo Pumapungo to the old town.

 

Three llamas lying in front of a fence
More llamas, these along the footpath

The section we walked starts on the north side of the river bank west of Av. Huayna-Capac. If you continue, you will eventually see stairways leading to a higher level. Take one of these to reach the Historic Center.

Looking up a steep stairway
One of the stairways you can take to get to the old town

There are many other places you can stroll along the river, including in Paradise Park (El Paraíso Park), and there are three other rivers to explore as well.

A fast-flowing river with a wooden walkway alongside it
One small part of the Tomebamba River, this part in Paradise Park.

6. Eat Cheap (or Not)

There seem to be two choices for dining out in Cuenca. You can go the inexpensive route, a small plain restaurant with traditional food at unbelievably low prices. Breakfast with juice and coffee is $2.50. Lunches are priced as low as $3.50 for soup, main dish, and drink. You will not get much ambiance at these restaurants. The second option is to go to a restaurant with ambiance. These cost more but are still reasonable by U.S. standards.

We visited one restaurant that stood head and shoulders above the rest:

Capitan

On our second to last night in Cuenca, we wanted to try somewhere new. We decided on Capitan, which was listed as the 5th best restaurant in Cuenca on Trip Advisor (and is #3 as of this writing).

We were underwhelmed when we arrived. The restaurant had four tables and could seat 16 people total. We considered looking for something else, but we were hungry, so we decided to stay.

And we were glad we did. This was one of the best meals we had during the three months we spent in Ecuador. It started with soft, aromatic garlic bread with an incredible garlicky mayo-like spread that I could have eaten for hours.

Next was a delectable shrimp ceviche, followed by sea bass (with crab meat for Steve, spinach for me). Add a Coke and three small glasses of wine, and the total with tip was $74.

Ceviche and popcorn
Incredible ceviche with the customary popcorn

Two plate sith fish, French fries, and vegetables
Our dinners, photos can’t do them justice

This meal was so enjoyable that we had an encore the next night. I wish we had discovered this gem at the beginning of our stay.

As good as the food is, it was not the best thing about this restaurant. The chef, who I also believe is the owner, was very welcoming and accommodating. He translated the menu for us and checked with us throughout our meal. You don’t usually see that in Latin America or Europe.

Capitan is at Tomás Ordóñez 6-76. The restaurant is small, so it is best to make reservations.

D’Galia Peru 

This restaurant also served fabulous ceviche along with other tasty dishes loaded with meat and vegetables. While the experience wasn’t as memorable as at Capitan, this is also an excellent place for a more upscale meal. It is along the Rio Tomebamba, not far from the Iglesias Santa Maria Del Vergel.

Three plates of Peruvian food
The food at D’Galia – so good and so good looking

The cost for this visit was $60. We visited again with two friends from Korea. The total for four of us was only $80.

D’Galia is at Av 12 de Abril 1-23 y Las Herrerías.

Fondue Garden

I had read about Fondue Garden somewhere and thought it would be a nice change of pace. And it was. We enjoyed a few meals there, including cheese fondue and chocolate fondue.

Chocolate fondue with items to dip
Chocolate fondue for dinner. Why not?

When we arrived the first time, we were greeted by Bonnie, a co-owner from the U.K. She made us feel very welcome, and it was nice to hear some proper English.

The restaurant has a second-floor patio that overlooks the Rio Tomebamba and the bridge named Puente Juana de Oro.

Fondue Garden is more moderately priced than Capitan or D’Galia. Our lunch with beverages and a tip was $35.

It is located at Paseo 3 de Noviembre y Escalinatas.

Man sitting at a table looking at a river
Steve at Fondue Garden

Now that I’ve shared six things that made us fall in love with Cuenca and made your mouth water, here are six more things to do in and around the city.

7. Take a Hop-On-Hop-Off Tour (or Two)

We used City Tours. This company has two hop-on-hop-off tours, North of Cuenca and South of Cuenca. They did a much better job than some of the hop-on tours we’ve had. You can board the buses a Parque Calderon and buy your ticket onboard.

The Homero Panama Hats tour was part of this. I doubt we would have gone to a hat factory otherwise.

8. Enjoy Parque Calderon

This is not a large area, but it can be a great place to rest and grab some yummies.

Parque Calderon with the New Cathedral in the background
The beautiful Parque Calderon

A girl walking by stands of sweets
There are plenty of delicious choices in the stalls around Parque Calderon

9. Take a Trip to Cajas National Park (Parque Nacional Cajas)

We hired a guide I found on Trip Advisor to show us around. Be warned, if you go to the higher altitude areas it will be cold.

Two men looking at a tree
Steve and our guide in the park

A hummingbird in a tree
A hummingbird in the park

You can learn about the park here.

10. Relax in the Spas in Banos

You can have a peaceful and affordable spa day just ten minutes from Cuenca. We didn’t do this, so I can’t comment on it. I kind of wish we had. You can read about the options here.

11. Shop for a Fuzzy Friend

Stuffed llamas (like the one below) and guinea pigs are in a lot of shops. They are so soft. Why not take one home?

Side note: guinea pigs (cuy) are a common food in Ecuador.

A stuffed llama on a shelf
I want to be your friend!

12. Admire the Architecture

In 1999 the Historic Center of Cuenca was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Have a quick look around, and you will see why.

Facade of a builing in Old Town Cuenca
A beautiful facade on a building in old town

Two ornate church doors
Doors on La Merced Church (left) and the New Catherdral (right).

For a more in-depth look at the architecture of Cuenca, check out A Guide to Cuenca Architecture.

Trip Details

Dates: June 20 – July 17, 2019
Days: 27
Total cost for 2: $2,800
Cost per day for 2: $104

Have you been to Cuenca? If so, Steve and I would love to hear about your experiences and restaurant recommendations.

Read more about our year in Latin America:
Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences
Is a Land-Based Galapagos Trip Right For You?
Latin American Street Art to Fuel Your Wanderlust
Wind and Whim’s 2019 Travel Costs: Latin America

Bonus Photos

Front view of the Turi Church in Cuenca
The Turi Church

A large French style building
Can you believe this is a high school? It’s the Colegio Nacional Experimental Benigno Malo.

A dog sitting on a man’s lap at a soccer game
A four-legged fan at our first soccer game

Wooden door with Inca style carvings
A door on a business nea Parque Calderon

A woman in native clothing with a young girl
It is common to see older native women in traditional dress.

View of the Broken Bridge from the Historic Center
The Broken Bridge as seen from the Historica Center

Street art of Incan man
Street art by the Museo Pumapungo

Have you been to Cuenca? If so, Steve and I would love to hear about your experiences and restaurant recommendations.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

Featured image by Fernando Zhiminaicela on Pixabay.com


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The Cats and Dogs of 2020

I’ve been feeling a little out of sorts lately. It is so easy to blame it on the pandemic, especially since we have been on restrictions since November*. But going back over the photos of cats and dogs we enjoyed seeing in 2020 made me think that there might be more to it. I need a pet fix. Badly.

As you may know, Steve and I spent 2020 in only two cities, Bansko, Bulgaria, and Budapest, Hungary. Neither place is teeming with stray cats and dogs, and that is a good thing. It is also reflected in how few photos I took of random animals during the year.

Nonetheless, I want to share those photos I have with you. Hopefully, they will bring a smile to your face as they do to mine. Here are the cats and dogs that touched our lives in 2020.

A large, dark-colored dog playing in the snow

This dog steals the heart of everyone he meets at the Redenka Holiday Club in Razlog, Bulgaria. We stayed there for four weeks while Steve recovered from a broken pelvis. It was always a joy to see Bansko (named for the nearby town) whenever I left the main building.

This photo was taken one afternoon as Bansko and I played in the newly fallen snow.

Two cats, one sitting on a bench, the other on the ground

These two cats were hanging out in Bansko. I sat on the bench, and they jumped up to sit next to me. It still amazes me how friendly stray cats in Europe can be.

A calico cat sleeping in a wicker basket

We saw this cat and the next two at Cat Café Budapest. Our mistake was visiting mid-afternoon. As you can see, there wasn’t much kitty action.

A grey and white cat looking out of a window

A grey and white cat sleeping with a stuffed toy

A woman sitting by a pond and sharing food with a cat

There is a Japanese garden at the north end of Margaret Island. It is lovely to visit any time of year, but it was even more special with this sweet cat. Here he is getting some treats from a woman.

A striped cat lying under a tree

And here he is after he’s had his fill. Don’t you love the two pigeons in the background?

A large black and white dog standing on a sidewalk

I met this sweet dog on an early morning solo walk. She had come to work at a café with her owner. While the owner went inside to work, the dog and I played catch. After she got the ball, she would run past me. She didn’t want to give it back, but she did eventually.

A woman grinning while holding a Siamese cat

The manager of our first Budapest Airbnb had three affectionate Siamese cats. I was able to get a photo with one of them. He doesn’t look that affectionate in the photo, does he?

A medium-sized dog lying on a sidewalk

As I’ve written before, Steve and I are amazed at how well-behaved dogs in Europe and Latin America are. It is not uncommon to see them walking with their owners without leashes. Most do an outstanding job of ignoring other animals and people. For this reason, I don’t have many dog pictures.

This cutie is a great example of how well trained they are. He laid outside a store while he waited for his owner.

A black and white cat lying on a grave

Cemeteries are a great place to see cats, although they do tend to shy away from people. We saw this one in the Farkasreti Cemetery in Budapest. I love how he looks like he’s grinning.

A White cat rubbing on a woman’s legs as she kneels down

Hungary gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1989. As you might imagine, the city was full of statues honoring Soviet leaders and promoting the Soviet agenda. Once Hungary became independent, the statues were moved to a park to serve as a reminder of the past without glorifying it. The park is called Momento Park. I highly recommend a visit if you are in Budapest.

While we were there, this white cat came up to me. She was so loveable. As always, when a cat chooses you, you feel special.

A white cat lying on the grass licking its paw

She is obviously very comfortable living in Momento Park.

A calico cat with large yellow eyes looking through a fence

In October, we spent several days in Balatonfured, a charming town on Lake Balaton. This cat started to follow us as we were walking through town. She finally sat behind this fence, and we continued on without her.

We ran into this handsome cat in Bansko. He just loved Steve and You can see in the video.

A cat sitting at a table

Last but definitely not least is this cutie in Oberic, Croatia. I saw this on a post by one of my favorite bloggers, Adventurous Kate. She was gracious enough to let me share it with you.

Be sure to check out Kate’s website at adventurouskate.com. Her monthly recaps have become a must-read for me.

I hope you enjoyed meeting these endearing cats and dogs. If you would like to see more check out  20 Captivating Cats From Around the World and 24 Delightful Dog Photos From Around the World.

* Restrictions have been in place since Nov. 11, 2020. These include an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, masks required in public places, high school and university classes online, and take-out only in restaurants. On March 8, 2020, the restrictions were tightened due to drastically rising Covid cases and deaths. These restrictions added the closing of all non-essential businesses and primary schools for two weeks. That is what we are in the middle of as I write this.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

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The Funky Side of Budapest

One of the things I enjoy when exploring a city is discovering unique and colorful street art. The more eccentric, the better. Quite frankly, I think Budapest is lacking in street art (at least in the form of murals), but it makes up for it with a multitude of quirky novelties.

Street art

Even though street art is lacking in Budapest, here are a few that I found entertaining.

Fancy Face at Tereza Mexican Restaurant (District VI)

A large mural of a colorfully decorated faceYou can see this colorful face outside of the Tereza Mexican Restaurant on Nagymező utca, not far from Andrássy utca.

A Woman and a Monkey (District VII)

A mural of a woman dring through a straw while sitting next to a monkey

This woman and her monkey liven up the side of a large building on Kazinczy utca.

What a Door (District VII)

A door painted with a colorful and zany face

And how about this cool door on Kazinczy utca, which is just a few doors down from the Szimpla Kert ruin bar (discussed below)?

Llamas in a Tunnel (District XIV)

A drawing of two stylized llamas

Even though it is common to see graffiti in tunnels, the graffiti we saw in a tunnel connecting two Mexikoi metro station stops was a pleasant surprise. In addition to these llamas, the entire tunnel was filled with drawings of cute animals.

Budapest has much less graffiti than many of the cities we visited. Public places seem to get a lot of respect.

Big Statues

As you would expect, Budapest has a wealth of historical statues and monuments. But they also have quite a few lighthearted ones. Many can be found in District V, which runs along the Danube River on the Pest side of the city. Here are a few of my favorite:

Columbo (District V)

At the north end of District V, not far from the Margaret Bridge, you can find a statue of the TV character Columbo. He stands in his rumpled clothes, scratching his head while holding a cigar. His dog, Dog, sits nearby.

Life-size staute of the TV character Columbo and his dog

Why is a statue of an American TV character in Budapest? The main reason is that Peter Falk, the actor who played Columbo, was of Hungarian heritage. It is also possible that he was related to a Hungarian political figure and writer named Miksa Falk. For this reason, the statue is at the end of Falk Miksa Street (Hungarians write names with the surname first).

If you want to know more about the delightful oddity, check out this site and the video it contains.

Girl With Her Dog (District V)

This girl has a lovely place along the Danube River in which to play ball with her dog. They can be found south of the Chain Bridge.

Statue of a girl reaching for a ball in a dog’s mouth

Little Princess (District V)

Just north of the Girl With Her Dog statue sits the Little Princess. The sculptor, László Marton, was inspired to create this statue by his daughter because she loved to dress up as a princess. The princess is perched on a railing along the Danube River.

Statue of a child in a princess outfit

The Fat Policeman (District V)

You can meet this guy not far from St. Stephen’s Basilica. It is said that if you rub his belly, you will have good luck. Note his ceremonial headgear, which is called a Zrinyi Helmet.

Statue of a policeman with a large belly

Man on a ladder (District VIII)

While walking to the Kerepesi Cemetery one day, we came across this statue in Teleki Lászlo tér. I have not been able to find out what it signifies but found it charming nonetheless.

Mini Statues

In addition to the statues mentioned above, the city is graced with quite a few mini statues. If you have eagle eyes, you may just spot some of them on your own. Since the statues are tiny (generally less than 1-foot square), we had to use this cheat sheet to find them.

The mini statues are the work of a sculptor named Mihály Kolodko. Some of the statues were commissioned, but others were placed around the city Banksy style by Kolodko. Kolodko’s mini statues grace several other cities as well.

According to the list above, there are twenty statues in Budapest. Of course, that number could change at any time.

Checker-Eared Rabbit (District 1)

This little spy can be found near Buda Castle. It is based on a character from a Hungarian children’s TV show.

Mini statue of a rabbit with an eyeglassKermit the Frog (District V)

You can see the always popular Kermit in Liberty Square. (Szabadság Square) not far from the U.S. Embassy.

Mini statue of a frog in front of a fenceDiver (District VII)

This statue of a diver was the first mini statue we saw in Budapest. That was before we knew of the other mini statues. It is outside of the elegant New York Palace Hotel and Café. It illustrates a legend that a  Hungarian author named Ferenc Molnár tossed the café’s key into the river to prevent it from ever closing.

While the café is still around, it is currently closed because of the pandemic.

Mini statue of a scuba diver with a keyTank (District I)

Some of the mini statues have historical meaning, like this tank. It commemorates the failed  1956 revolution against Soviet occupation. The tank is on the Buda side of the Danube across from Parliament. The gun is facing downward to signify the end of the revolution.

Mini statue of a tank with it’s gun bent downwardDead Squirrel (District V)

This unfortunate creature lies just behind the Columbo statue on Falk Miksa Street. To illustrate how small the mini statues are, we passed by the Columbo statue many times, stopped to photograph it at least twice, and never spotted the squirrel.

Mini statue of a dead squirrel with a gun
Ruin Bars

Ruin bars are unique to Budapest. They were originally underground bars set up in abandoned or decaying buildings. Since District VII (the Jewish Quarter) had been neglected since WWII, this was the logical place to find these buildings.

The bars were decorated with cheap, free, or even discarded furniture and novelties, eclecticism in the extreme.

Ruin bars still exist but have lost their alternative vibe since they got on the radar of tourists. Even so, it is worth checking out one or two of them, even if you aren’t a drinker/partier.

You can read more about Budapest’s ruin bars in this article by Nomatic Matt.

Szimpla Kert (District VII)

The first, most famous, and yes, the funkiest ruin bar is Szimpla Kert (Simple Garden in English). In addition to the nighttime activities, they host a farmers’ market every Sunday. That is when we took the opportunity to see what the fuss was all about.

Like two of the examples of street art (above), Szimpla Kert is on Kazinczy utca.

The front of Szimpla Kert
The front of Szimpla Kert on a Sunday Morning

Interior view of Szimpla Kert with plants and mannequin
One example of the oddities you will find inside

liebling (District VII)

We haven’t visited this place yet, but we definitely need to. It is a roof-top bar on Akácfa utca that is part of the Instant-Fogas Complex. This complex has seven clubs at one site.

Roof bar with large red lips and white eagle
The roof top bar liebling as seen from the street

Mazel Tov (District VII)

As of this writing, the only other ruin bar Steve and I visited was Mazel Tov, also on Akácfa utca. It is less zany, more classy than the above two bars. With an open feeling and some trees growing among the tables, it is a pleasant place for a light meal.

Interior of Mazel Tov restaurant and bar
Inside Mazel Tov; airy and relaxing

A Few More Funky Things

The Michael Jackson Memorial Tree (District V)

No, it isn’t a tree that was planted in the late pop star’s honor. The Michael Jackson Memorial Tree is a tree that stands in Elisabeth Square near the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest. It is covered with photos paying tribute to Jackson.

Jackson only visited Budapest three times. Once in 1994, to shoot a promotional video for his HIStory album, once in 1996 to check out a concert venue, and again in 1996 for the only concert he ever gave in Budapest (part of his HIStory world tour). Prior to 1989, Hungary was controlled by the Soviet Union, and acts like Jackson’s were not welcome.

A tree covered with photos of Michael Jackson
The Michael Jackson Memorial Tree in Elisabeth Square. You can see part of the Budapest Eye in the background.

Here is more detail about the tree from We Love Budapest.

Púder Bárszínház (District IX)

If you stroll down Raday Street in District IX, you may come across this golden bear. He sits in front of the Púder Bárszínház restaurant.

Raday Street is in the historic Ferencváros district and boasts many restaurants, including Costes, Budapest’s first Michelin-starred restaurant.

A large gold-tone bear statue sitting on a sidewalk
A cute but not very cuddly bear on Raday Street.

Bela Lugosi Bust (District XIV)

Since he died in 1956, you may not be familiar with Bela Lugosi. He was a Hungarian actor who became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He is most famous for his portrayal of Dracula.

If you visit the Vajdahunyad Castle in City Park, you can see a bust of Bela Lugosi. It was placed in an empty nook on the castle in the dark of night (how fitting) by the German artist who created the bust. You would be unlikely to notice it unless you were looking for it. You can read more about this bust and the artist’s escapades in other cities in this Atlas Obscura article.

A bust of the actor Bela Lugosi on a castle wall
Bela surveying the grounds at City Park

Closing

Budapest is divided into 23 districts. As you can see in this list, there is a lot to see in District V. This is no surprise since it is the downtown/tourist area.

District VII is the former Jewish Quarter and is heavy on nightlife. The three ruin bars mentioned here are in District VII.

The mini statues have been placed throughout the city and make for fun exploring if time permits. Personally, I love this city and can find entertaining delights no matter where I go.

I hope you enjoyed reading about some of the off-beat sights and activities in Budapest. Of course, Budapest is chock full of elegance as well. You can see some of that in The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos.

And check out 20 Quick and Cool Things to See and Do in Budapest for even more ideas.

As always, Steve and I would love to hear about the funky sights you have seen in Budapest!

Stay safe,
Linda

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Beware the E-Scooters: A Wind and Whim Travel Story

There are many ways to get around in Budapest. In addition to an extensive metro system, there are taxis, buses, trams, trains, and bicycles. There is even a chairlift to get to the top of Janos Hill. But for Steve and me, the most enjoyable way to get around the city is by electric scooter. At least it was until I had not one, but two, scooter accidents within a month.

Freedom After Lockdown

We arrived in Budapest in March of 2020. The entire country shut down just a few days later because of COVID-19. During the three-month shutdown, we limited our time in public. When the shutdown ended, we discovered the fun of scootering around the city.

We were nervous about riding next to heavy traffic, so we limited our scooter outings to Sunday mornings and holidays when the streets were less crowded.

Fun While it Lasted (Accident #1)

For the next few months, we would get out early on Sunday. We zipped around Budapest from City Park to Margaret Island. From the Castle District to the Palace District.

Then one Sunday, we were riding in the bike lane on Andrassy Avenue. As I approached an intersection, a young man stepped off the curb and into my path. He had failed to look both ways, relying on the convention that all traffic must stop when a pedestrian enters the striped crosswalk.

Bikelane, road, and crosswalk on Andrassy Ave. in Budapest
The scene of accident #1

I swerved left, then right, then left again. He stepped forward, then backward, then forward again. I barely avoided hitting him. I hit the back of a parked car instead. I was going too fast to stop and bear all the blame.

Results of Accident #1

I was fortunate that my only physical injury was a scraped elbow. But my pride and confidence were seriously shaken.

We aren’t sure what damage I caused to the car since it already had a lot of dents and scratches. Steve took several pictures of the car and left our contact information under a wiper blade. We headed home on foot.

Black Yaris with a dent in the side
I hit the back of this car. The huge dent on the side was already there.

A few weeks later, we got a call from the owner of the car. We met with him and filled out insurance paperwork, which of course, we couldn’t read because it was in Hungarian. We also submitted forms to LimeBike.

As of this writing, we have not heard anything else about this issue.

Down, But Not Out

This accident shook me up, but I decided that it wouldn’t stop me from riding scooters. I would just have to be more careful.

Realizing that it could have been much worse, I bought a helmet and wore it every time I rode.

Even with the helmet, I was nervous. Steve would often get ahead of me because he was going at a normal speed. Then he would stop and wait for me.

Accident #2

Just one month later, it happened again.  This time I didn’t damage any property, but I did end up in the ER.

We were heading home after exploring Obudai Island. We were traveling on a narrow sidewalk right next to a road. The next thing I know, I was reaching out with my left foot and then tumbling into the road.

It was a good thing I was wearing my helmet because my head bounced off the road. Fortunately, there weren’t any cars coming in my direction at that time.

A family was driving by and saw me fall. They stopped to help. They asked if I would like to go to the hospital. I was pretty shaken up, had a big bump on the back of my head, and was concerned about a concussion, so I said yes.

It seemed like a bit of overkill, but since we don’t have a car, the good samaritans called an ambulance. And because the accident occurred on a state road, the police were summoned as well.

Passing the Test

While we waited for the ambulance, the police recorded what had happened. That is when we found out that you need a valid driver’s license to ride an electric scooter. Fortunately, I had my Florida license with me, and that was satisfactory.

Then they did a  breathalyzer test. I am happy to say I passed with flying colors since my last drink was peach juice.

Now it was time to head to the hospital.

Not Quick, But Cheap

I was taken to the Hungarian Army Medical Center (Magyar Honvédség Egészségügyi Központ). As in the U.S., we had a long wait in the ER, but it was a much better experience than Steve had after his skiing accident in Bulgaria. You can read about that in Hospitalized in Bulgaria.

This hospital was clean, almost everyone was wearing masks, and most of the staff spoke English. After a cat scan, I was given a clean bill of health and sent home. Besides the bump on my head, I had an abrasion on my other elbow and a huge bruise behind one knee.

The whole thing, including the ambulance ride, only cost US$230. The most painful part was the realization that I had reached the point in life in which I can’t safely do everything I want to.

Just like Steve swore off skiing after his accident, I swore off electric scooters that day.

But There’s More

A few weeks after my second accident, I received a letter from the Budapest police. It was in Hungarian, but I got the gist of it by using Google Translate. It said that because I had a motor vehicle accident on a state road, I was subject to a US$500 fine. I wasn’t sure if the letter was a warning or if I would be fined. After a few emails, I was assured that this was only a warning. I was also told that future infractions would not be dealt with so leniently.

As you can see, while I was not a successful scooter rider, things could have been much worse.

How to Use LimeBike Scooters

Carefully. Very carefully, lol.

Seriously though, it is easy to rent scooters using the LimeBike app. After setting up your account, all you have to do is pull up the map showing where available scooters are located. You located a nearby scooter, press a few buttons, and you’re good to go.

Once you arrive at your destination, park it out of the way, making sure it is not in a no-locking zone. The app makes this easy.

If you are stopping for a time, be sure to pause or lock the scooter. You can always get another one when you are ready to ride again. They are everywhere in the touristy areas.

If you ride scooters, please be careful and consider wearing a helmet.

We have only used a few bike share apps, but they were a pain to use. The LimeBike app was the easiest we have used. Be warned, though; it is not the most economical way to get around.

What Does it Cost to Use a LimeBike Scooter?

I am not even going to attempt to analyze the price structure. I can tell you this: the average amount we spent per outing (which could be more than one ride) was US$10 per person.

If you want to get around quickly and inexpensively, you are better off with the metro and tram system or the buses. If you want to have a little fun and don’t mind spending more, a scooter might be just the thing.

A Final Word of Warning

Even if you don’t ride scooters, you are still at risk from them. Throughout Budapest, it is common to see electric scooters, bikes, and even motorcycles being ridden on sidewalks. A good habit to develop as a pedestrian is to walk as if you were driving a car. If you want to “change lanes”, glance behind you first. We have been amazed at how close to pedestrians riders will come without giving any warning.

Further Reading

If you want to learn more about e-scooters, here are two articles that may be of interest to you:

The results of a survey on E-scooters in Europe: legal status, usage and safety, a published in Septermber 2020 by the Forum of European Road Safety Research Institutes (FERSI).

A post about electric scooter accidents in the U.S. by a personal injury firm called Valiente Mott.

Safe and Happy Traveling,
Linda

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12 Ways To Be An Amazing Airbnb Host

Steve and I are currently in our twenty-eighth Airbnb since beginning our worldwide travels in April 2018. As of December 31, 2020, we have spent 800 nights in Airbnb apartments. Overall, our experiences have been good. Even so, we have identified twelve things Airbnb hosts can do to take their guests’ experiences from good to great.

Much More Good Than Bad

Airbnb is the most valuable service we use as full-time travelers. It allows us to find roomy apartments at affordable prices. Without it and similar services, we would have to pay more for less (in hotels) or live very simply (in hostels). Neither of these appeal to us.

After some less-than-ideal experiences during our first year of travel (which you can read about in Lessons From Airbnb), we have learned to quickly identify apartments that meet our needs. Since we typically rent for four weeks, we look for a full kitchen with a range, a full-size refrigerator, a separate bedroom, a clothes washer (a dryer is a plus but not common in many cities), and of course wifi. And after staying in one place with a cheap sofa that sat low on the floor, we make sure the living room looks comfortable. We like to use Superhosts, but that is not a deal-breaker.

Most of our hosts have done a great job of providing a clean and pleasant environment. Many have provided welcome food. One host left the flowers (above) along with chocolate and wine.

Wine is appreciated, but we really appreciate a few bottles of drinking water, especially in places where the tap water isn’t safe to drink. We have found the linens to be clean and in good repair, and there is usually at least one flat-screen TV.

I could go on and on about the pleasure of staying with hosts who care about the quality of their guests’ experience. But this article is about the things hosts can do better. We humbly suggest that Airbnb hosts consider these twelve suggestions to give their guests the best Airbnb experience possible (and ensure their own success).

Things We Wish Every Host Would Provide
1. More Hangers

Our rentals have always had clothes hangers. They have almost always had too few. Six seems to be the number of hangers many hosts feel their guests will need. I can tell you right now; we need more hangers! At least six per person. Preferably more. We carry our own hangers but would prefer not to.

2. And More Than One Mirror

A monkey looking into a mirror
Photo credit Andre Mouton on Unsplash.com

We usually have only one bathroom. Not always fun if you are traveling with another person (if you get my drift). We carry a bottle of Poo~Pourri for this very reason. Even so, we don’t always want to enter that room immediately after the other person has used it.

This can be a problem when we are getting ready to go out and need a mirror. That leads to our second request. A mirror outside of the bathroom. Extra points if it is a full-length mirror.

3. Bathroom Shelves

Because we tend to stay in one place for several weeks, we are sensitive to storage space. Many bathrooms have an under-sink cabinet where we can store toiletries. Most of them also have wall space above the toilet that is usually filled with a cheap picture. How about some shelves there instead, so guests can have their toiletries visible and easily accessible?

White floating shelves in pristine bathroom
Photo credit Andrea Davis on Unsplash.com

4. Extra Bath Towels

Hosts are expected to provide one bath towel for each guest. A few will go the extra mile and provide more. This is usually not a problem. However, if the rental is in a building with a swimming pool or hot tub, it would be nice if the hosts would provide two towels per guest. It isn’t fun to dry off at the pool and then have to dry off from your shower with a damp, chlorine-scented towel.

5. And a Bath Mat

Another thing that is often lacking is a mat to use in front of the shower or tub. Guests don’t want to be drying off with the same towel that was just on the floor.

6. Better Sofas

We usually find the beds in our rentals to be roomy and comfortable. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same about the sofas. We rarely have one that is really comfortable for stretching out after a busy day of sightseeing. Too often, the sofas are just one step up from a futon.

We realize furniture isn’t cheap, and people host Airbnb’s to make money, not get into Architectural Digest. Even so, you can’t put a price tag on a comfy sofa. One that guests can stretch out on. Like this:

Dark gray L-shaped sofa in a living room.
Photo credit Sven Brandsma on Unsplash.com

7. A Clean Vacuum

Many units have a vacuum for the guests to use. Steve is the vacuum handler in our house, and I can’t remember the last time he used a vacuum without having to empty or unclog it first.

Since most units have hard floors rather than carpet, a broom and a dustpan are preferable to a clogged vacuum.

8. Sharp Knives

Overall, hosts do a very good job of outfitting the kitchen. One thing that seems to be universally ignored is keeping the knives sharp. It’s a little thing that means a lot.

9. Street Maps

Yes, we have Google Maps, but it isn’t foolproof. We appreciate it when a host provides a few up-to-date street maps of the area. We recently stayed in one apartment where they had several copies (like about 20), so we didn’t feel bad about taking one and writing on it.

I know we can buy a paper map, but it is getting harder and harder to find them, and who wants to spend their travel time map shopping?

Things We Wish Every Host Would Do
10. Keep On Top of Minor Maintenance Issues

Most of the places we have stayed have been in good repair. But occasionally, a host will let a little maintenance issue slide.

We have had a very loose kitchen faucet (literally hanging in the sink), a large number of burned-out light bulbs, and a freezer that was one giant block of ice, to name a few. As guests, we don’t want to be put in the position of reminding the host about what needs to be fixed, and we don’t want to have to stay home while it is being repaired. Please take care of these issues before your guests arrive. And if you fail to do so, or something breaks after the guests arrive, please do not make them ask you to fix it more than once.

11. An Annual Deep Clean

Sign reading “This house was clean yesterday - we’re sorry you missed it.”
Photo credit Jonathan Francisca on Unsplash.com

It is a pleasure to stay in a new listing. Everything is freshly painted and color-coordinated. Appliances are out of the box shiny and have the latest bells and whistles. But nothing stays new forever. One thing that seems to be lacking is deep cleaning. Yes, the kitchen and bathroom get wiped down after each guest. The floors get washed, and the bedding and towels laundered.

But what about the dust on the woodwork, the calcium deposits on the showerhead, or dirty air conditioning filters? An annual deep cleaning would go a long way towards keeping the unit like new for each guest.

12. Pay Attention to What’s in the Cabinets and Drawers

This is where hosts and their cleaning people drop the ball big time. I can’t tell you how many times we have had to scrub pots and pans or kitchen utensils because a previous guest did not clean them well, and the person who cleaned up after the guest never thought to check on the items in the kitchen cabinets and drawers.

Occasionally an item has been so rusty, moldy, or crusty that we chose to buy our own instead of using it.

Heads up to all hosts and cleaning people. Please keep an eye on the kitchen tools and appliances!

A Quick List

Here are the nine things we would like to see more hosts provide:

More clothes hangers
A mirror outside of the bathroom
Shelves in the bathroom
Extra towels if there is a pool or jacuzzi
A bath mat
A comfy sofa
A clean vacuum
Sharp knives
A few current paper street maps

And here are three things we would like to see every host do:

Take care of small maintenance issues before guests arrive
Do an annual deep clean
Checking the condition of kitchen appliances and tools

Thank You, Airbnb Hosts

Airbnb is a godsend for travelers. We appreciate and commend every host who is providing a safe and comfortable place for his guests.

If you are an Airbnb host and are already doing these things, kudos to you.

For all other hosts, we hope you will give some consideration to these suggestions.

Happy hosting,
Linda

Featured image by Pineapple Supply Co. on Unsplash.com

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Sintra, Portugal – Stunning and Sublime

One of the best things about traveling full-time is discovering awesome new places. Sintra, Portugal, was such a place. This enchanting town, less than one hour from Lisbon, is brimming with historic palaces and castles.

Steve and I spent seven weeks in Portugal visiting six cities in the fall of 2018. Our tour of the country included stops in Porto, Lisbon, and the Algarve. But Sintra was the one that has remained in our hearts.

Read on to learn about Sintra and five of its most visited attractions.

A Little About Sintra

Sintra is situated in the Sintra Mountains 15.5 miles (25 km) west of Lisbon. It is famous for its 19th-century architecture known as Romanticism, and the entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In this area, you can explore several palaces and castles and their beautiful grounds. You can also visit the Sintra-Cascais Nature Park.

Sintra is often recommended as a day trip from Lisbon. However, if you love exploring as we do, you will need more than a day to do it justice.

It can be reached by car, but the roads are narrow and hilly, and parking is limited. It is better to take the 40-minute train ride from Lisbon. We got around the town by bus and walking with no problem at all.

Colorful buildings with tree-covered mountains in the background
Part of Sintra as seen from the National Palace of Sintra.

National Palace of Sintra (Palácio Nacional de Sintra)

Exterior of large white palace

The National Palace of Sintra was a popular summer resort and hunting retreat for Portuguese royalty for many centuries. When Portugal became a republic in 1910, the palace became a national monument. It is now a historical museum and the only medieval royal palace still in existence in Portugal.

The oldest part of the palace is the royal chapel. It is believed to have been built in the early 14th century. Much of the remainder of the palace dates from the 15th and 16th centuries. It underwent restoration in 1940.

The palace is located in town and is sometimes referred to as the Town Palace (Palacio da Vila). It is easy to spot because of the two large cone-shaped chimneys rising almost 100 feet (30 meters) from the roof. They provided ventilation for the palace’s two kitchens.

Close up of hand-painted doves

This is a part of the painted wall in the chapel. The doves represent the Holy Ghost descending to Earth.

Room with partially tiled walls and swans painted on the ceiling

The Swan Hall features an intricate ceiling featuring, you guessed it, swans.

A close up of azulejo tiles featuring a faun and flowers

The walls of the Coat of Arms Room are covered with azulejo tiles like these.

It is worth a few hours of your time. I recommend a tour to learn about the symbolism found in the various rooms.

Park and Palace of Monserrate (Palacio de Monserrate)

Side view of the Palace of Monserrate

The Park and Palace of Monserrate is located in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains about 2 miles (3.5 km) from the center of Sintra. While not particularly large, the palace is a lovely example of Romanticism. It combines Moorish and neo-gothic design elements. The gardens feature 1,000 species of plants in several themed areas, including a rose garden, a Japanese garden, and a Mexican garden. And how can you not love a place that has an area called fern valley?

Legend has it that circa 1093 a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary was erected on the site. In 1540 the hermitage Our Lady of Monserrate was built on the site of the palace. From that time until 1863, the estate saw several owners and was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1755.

In 1863 Sir Francis Cook purchased the estate of Monserrate. He commissioned the construction of the current palace, which became a summer residence for his family. He also renovated the gardens.

We visited in November, so the gardens weren’t at their best, but it was still fun to explore.

Hallway with marble columns and filigree details

This photo of a hallway in the palace shows the great attention to detail.

Close up of a fountain near the palace

You can see this fountain as you exit the palace.

Hedgie overlooking the palace lawn

Our travel buddy Hedgie couldn’t wait to run on the lawn.

Pena Palace (Palacio Nacional da Pena)

Exterior of Pena Palace from the road below

The most colorful of the Sintra attractions is the Pena Palace. Much of the exterior is painted red and bright yellow. The oldest section is the Manueline cloisters, which date back to the 1500s. Most of the current building was constructed between 1842 and 1854 under the behest of King Ferdinand.

The palace is brimming with an eclectic mix of architectural elements, including Neo-Gothic, Neo-Islamic, and Neo-Renaissance. The interior of the palace was restored to reflect the decor as it was in 1910 when the Portuguese nobility fled to Brazil to escape the revolution.

Gargoyle-like creature on the outside of a building

This handsome guy symbolizes the Creation. Be sure to say hi when you see him.

Terrace and pillars overlooking a valley

The Queen’s Terrace is a popular photo spot.

Don’t make the same mistake we did. Be sure to visit the Parque de Pena as well. It covers almost 500 acres (200 hectares) and has over 30 man-made elements. Here is some information about the park.

A word of warning – the palace sits on the second-highest point in the Sintra Mountains. There is a road that leads from the train station to the palace, but it is a 50-minute uphill hike. Be sure to take tourist bus 434 unless you are looking for a workout.

Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros)

View of the Castle of the Moors from a distance

We had so much fun exploring these medieval castle ruins that sit high in the Sintra Mountains. The castle was built in the 8th and 9th centuries by the Moors and was used to defend the area through the 12th century.

In 1147 Christian Crusaders stormed the castle. With the Moors driven out, it was left to become a ruin. It was partially restored by King Ferdinand II in the mid-1800s as he liked to view it from the nearby Pena Palace.

Unlike the first two places discussed here, the castle does not have rooms to see. It is a ruin where you can walk along castle walls, climb towers, and take in the views of Sintra, including the National Palace and Pena Palace.

Man walking on a castle wall

You can take tourist bus 434 to get to the castle, or you can walk there from Pena Palace in about 12 minutes.

Quinta da Regaleira

Large neo-Gothic mansion

You can’t tell by looking at it, but the Quinta da Regaleira is the newest of the five attractions in this list. The neo-gothic palace and chapel were built by a Brazilian-Portuguese businessman named Antonio Augusto de Carvalho Monteiro in 1904. Monteiro died in the palace in 1920, but it remained in his family until 1987. It was then purchased by a Japanese company to be used for private functions. It became a national monument in 1997 and was open to the public the following year.

The villa is definitely worth touring, but the real attraction is the extensive and totally over the top park. It reflects Monteiro’s interest in mystical ideologies, including the Knights Templar, the Masons, and alchemy. The park is almost 10 acres (4 hectares), and in addition to the expected fountains and statues, it includes lakes, grottoes, tunnels, and caves.

Rocky entrance to a cave

Walkway, pond, and stepping stones in a park-like setting.

Note the stepping stones you can access from a cave.

There are also two initiation wells on the property. The wells were not meant for water collection. They symbolize the initiation ceremony of the Knights Templar.

Looking down into a large initiation well

The larger one is perhaps the most famous part of the park. You can walk down the spiral stairs 88 feet below ground and see the Templar Cross inscribed in the floor.

Man looking through a moss-covered opening

    Steve on his way to the bottom of the Initiation Well

Steve and I loved visiting all the places above, but when we think of our time in Sintra, our fondest memories are of the time we spent exploring the grounds of Quinta da Regaleira.

The Cats of Sintra

OK, the cats of Sintra isn’t really a thing. But we love to meet cats and dogs on our travels and take their photos if they consent. Here are three cats we “met” while taking in the gems of the town.

Grey cat sitting on a sandy walkway
Palace of Monserrate cat

Cat lying infront a a woman’s boots
Castle of the Moors cat

Tan cat crouched on sandy walkway
Quinta de Regaleira cat

But That’s Not All!

There are many more things to do in and near Sintra. In fact, writing the article made me realize that there is a lot we didn’t see there. We need to go back.

Here are some other things to enjoy in the area:

Cabo da Roca – cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at the westernmost point of continental Europe.

Convent of the Capuchos (Convento dos Capuchos) – the ruins of a16th century Franciscan monastery. The convent’s simplicity contrasts with the luxury of many of Sintra’s attractions.

National Palace of Queluz (Palácio Nacional de Queluz) – another incredible historic palace with gardens located between Lisbon and Sintra.

Air Museum (Museu do Ar) – learn about the history of aviation in Portugal.

Cascais – we did spend a few hours in this coastal resort town about 10 miles (16.8 km) south of Sintra. It’s definitely worth another visit.

Harbor in Cascais, Portugal
The harbor in Cascais

Trip Details

Dates: November 13-23, 2018
Number of days: 10
Total cost: $1,300
Cost per day: $130

Here is what we spent in Europe in eight months.

We’d love to hear about your experiences in and around Sintra. As always, I have done my best to be factual. If you find an error in my facts, please let me know.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

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Wind and Whim’s 2020 Travel Costs: Europe

What can I say about the year we just had? No words can adequately express the sorrow of the almost two million lives lost, the lingering health impacts suffered by the long haulers, and the economic and mental costs COVID-19 has wrought.

I will not complain about having to hunker down in Hungary for 9 1/2 months out of the year. Steve and I are fortunate on so many fronts. We are retired, so there was no worry about how to work safely and effectively. We managed to remain healthy, even though it meant much more isolation than we would have liked. Our daughters are adults, so there were no issues with schooling. And we spent our time in Budapest, which is beautiful and affordable.

The Chain Bridge and Pest from the Buda side
The iconic Chain Bridge and the Pest side of Budapest

Even though 2020 is not representative of our usual travel costs, I decided to share them in the interest of continuity.

Man Plans, God Laughs

Ironically, our third year of travel was the first one in which we made an itinerary. We prefer to wing it (hence the name of this blog) but hoped to have our daughters visit us during the year. Therefore, we laid out where we would go so they could choose their destinations and make plans. We all know how that turned out.

After starting the year with a ski trip to Bansko, Bulgaria, we planned to go to Ukraine (including a dark tourism trip to the Chernobyl site), Budapest, Krakow, Prague, the U.K. (including a ten-day walk through Yorkshire and the Lake District), Italy, and a two-week cruise back to the U.S.

Instead, we spent nine weeks in Bansko as Steve recovered from his skiing accident. Then we headed to Budapest, Hungary, as the country and many others went into lockdown. We ended up staying for the entire year.

The Budget

Our budget has two parts:

* a simple three-item budget for every four weeks of travel
* an annual budget for items that span the year, like evacuation insurance

In the past, we scheduled most of our stops in four-week intervals. Our four-week budget is designed to be simple and breaks down like this:

ItemBudget
Lodging$1,500
Food$1,300
Transportation
& Activites
$1,000
Total$3,800

We spent 356 days away from Jacksonville in 2020. That means our four-week budget translates to $48,600 for travel in 2020 (the four-week budget of $3,800 divided by 28 days in four weeks times 356 travel days).

In addition, we have general costs that cover us all year. This includes:

* evacuation insurance through MedJet
* a virtual mailbox service with Traveling Mailbox
* a VPN service through ExpressVPN
* international drivers’ licenses
* travel supplies

The budget for general costs was $2,600.

This makes the total budget for 2020 $51,200.

You may wonder why there are only three categories in the four-week budget. While we incur costs for other items like SIM cards, medical care, or kitchen tools, the amounts tend to be small and hard to predict. We try to stay under the budget for the three categories, which leaves funds to cover the smaller expenses.

You may also wonder why I do not include our expenses when we return to our home city of Jacksonville, Florida. This is because what we spend in Jacksonville isn’t indicative of what a traveler would spend. While we are back in Jacksonville, we are Mom and Dad, not world travelers.

So What Were Our 2020 Travel Cost?

Here are our costs by category:

CategoryCost
Lodging$16,700
Food$12,800
Medical$4,500
Activities$2,300
Transportation$2,000
Telephone$700
Office Related$600
Supplies$400
Other$700
Total$40,700

As you can see, we spent $40,700 traveling this year.

Here is the detail of our actual and budgeted costs and the variances by location:

Location
Actual Cost
BudgetOver (Under) Budget
Bansko, Bulgaria$10,500$8,600

$1,900

Budapest, Hungary$27,800$40,000($12,200)
General Costs$2,400$2,600($200)
Totals$40,700$51,200($10,500)


Travel days358358358
Cost per day$114$143$29

Our budget allows for spending of $143 per day. We spent only $114 per day.

A few notes about this data:

* all costs are in U.S. dollars
* all costs are for two people
* it only includes expenses directly related to travel

The following items are not included:
* stateside medical insurance
* visits to doctors in the U.S.
* prescriptions purchased in the U.S.
* base cost of our AT&T cell phone plan
* storage of our possessions in the U.S.
* clothing (unless purchased for a specific reason like ski wear)

Notes On Budget Variances
We were over budget in:

Bansko, Bulgaria – We were over budget by $2,000 in Bansko. These costs are related to Steve’s skiing accident:
* medical expenses not covered by insurance $500
* non-refundable Kyiv, Ukraine expenses $900
* taxis to and from hospital $200
* daily charge for AT&T SIM card usage $100
* ski supplies $200

A mountain peak seen from a city street
A peak of the Pirin Mountains in Bansko that is used for skiing

We were under budget in:

Budapest, Hungary – we were under budget by an astounding $12,000 for the 9 1/2 months we spent in Budapest in 2020.

We saved $3,000 on accommodations. You can get some great deals when there is little demand.

We saved $4,000 on food. We did not find the food prices in Budapest to be a bargain, but the fact that restaurants were closed for half of the time we were here kept more $$$ in our pockets.

We saved an incredible $9,000 on transportation and activity costs. We usually move to a new city every four weeks. Because we remained in one city for so long and museums and attractions, like restaurants, were closed for half the time, we saw huge savings.

Some of the money we saved was spent on medical costs to the tune of $3,000.

* $1,500 of this for prescriptions filled here
* $1,200 for private medical insurance for one year at FirstMed.

We purchased medical insurance when it became obvious that we would be here a while. For $50 per month per person, it gives us numerous medical services at no extra cost.

Our Budapest costs include two side trips: the first to Szentendre and Visegrád for two nights and the second to Balatonfüred for three nights. The cost for these two trips totaled $1,000.

Sun reflecting off a lake
The beautiful Lake Balaton on an October morning

A Look at Our Spending Per Day

Our budget allows for spending of $143 per day. We spent only $114 per day. Here are our 2020 daily costs by location:

LocationTotal CostDaysCost per Day
Bansko, Bulgaria$10,50063$167
Budapest, Hungary$27,800295$94
General Expenses$2,400358$7
Totals$40,700358$114
Budget$51,200358$143

How We Travel

Our style of travel was higher than backpacker level and definitely under luxury level. I would classify it as three-star.

Our lodgings were clean and comfortable, often stylish, and always had a kitchen and a separate bedroom. Most of them had a clothes washer.

Stylish kitchen
The kitchen in our first Budapest apartment

Our meals were either cooked at home or eaten in mid-level restaurants.

Comparison to Past Years

Since the number of days we travel (as opposed to being in Jacksonville) varies, the best way to compare the years is by annualizing the cost. I do this by taking the actual daily cost while traveling and multiplying it by the number of days in the year.

YearCost per DayDays in YearAnnualized Cost
2018$160365$58,400
2019$145365$52,900
2020$114366$41,700

Click here for more information on our 2018 and 2019 travel costs.

You can learn more about the ins and outs of full-time travel, including more information on costs, in our post 12 Full-Time Travel Questions Answered.

Looking Forward

We plan to stay in Budapest for the immediate future. We are allowed to remain in Hungary until mid-July 2021. Hopefully, the pandemic will be under control by then, and we can move on. If not, we will probably apply to extend our residence permit.

Thanks for reading. We would love to know what you think!

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

Featured image by Ursula Schneider on Pixabay.com

12 Full-Time Travel Questions Answered

Do you dream of traveling full-time? You’re not alone.

Between thoughts of Parisian cafes, Maldivian beaches, and African safaris, you may be wondering how feasible it is. You are probably concerned about costs and practical issues like medical insurance, prescriptions, and cell phone usage.

In 2016 Steve and I announced that we were planning to retire and travel full-time beginning in 2018. You can read about how we came to this decision in “How It All Began .”

Other full-time travelers have written about getting positive and negative comments when they sprang their news, but we only got positive reactions. I’m sure some of the people we told thought we were crazy, but they were kind enough not to say so.

During our two years of planning, we got many questions. Here are the questions we were asked, along with one that everyone was too polite to ask.

All money is in U.S. Dollars.

Are you going to sell your house or rent it?

We opted to sell the house we had lived in for 30 years. It was a great house for raising children, but it had served its purpose. We had a decent-size yard with extensive gardens that our daughters no longer played in and a pool that took more hours of maintenance than we spent swimming in it.

Renting may be a good option if you are likely to return to the home or neighborhood. We didn’t want the hassles of renting. We would have to pay a management company and find someone to maintain the yard and pool. The last thing we wanted in our new life was calls about repair costs or delinquent tenants.

A man and woman at Machu Picchu
Enjoying the splendor of Machu Picchu sure beats yard work.

Will you return to Jacksonville, Florida, when you are done traveling?

When we left Jacksonville in 2018, our plans were open-ended. We had no idea when or where we would settle. Even now, more than three years later, we still don’t.

One thing we know is that it won’t be in Jacksonville. We have no desire to return to the heat and humidity. One of our daughters lives there; the other is in Orlando. Other than that, we don’t have strong ties to Jacksonville. Steve and I have often discussed that we might not even settle in the U.S.

What will you do with your cars?

Since we planned to spend only one month in the U.S. each year, we sold our cars. When we return to the U.S., we rent a car.

Keep in mind that if you don’t own a car, you won’t have auto insurance. Our main credit card covers theft and damage to a rental auto. We always make sure we get liability coverage in case we cause an accident that results in someone’s injury or death or damages someone’s property. This doesn’t come cheap.

The abundance of public transportation in Europe and Latin America has spoiled us. In many cities, we’ve used Uber. We find it efficient and affordable. Before our first trip back to the U.S., we considered using it instead of renting a car. I used the Uber Price Estimator to determine what we would spend. Because Jacksonville is spread out and has heavy traffic, the prices were high. Also, having used Uber in Jacksonville a few times, I knew it was pricey. We felt that in this case, renting a car was the better choice.

How do your grown children feel about this?

Our two daughters, Stephanie and Laura, have been very supportive. If the idea of us being out of the country for most of the year bothers them, they are selfless enough to keep it to themselves.

Our original plan was to return to the U.S. every December. During these visits, we can spend time with Stephanie and Laura, visit friends, and see our doctors.

This plan worked fine for the first two years. Then 2020 arrived.  We spent December 2020 in Budapest, Hungary, where we have been waiting out the pandemic. We hope to return to the U.S. for a visit in December 2021.

How will you get your mail?

We are using a virtual mailbox service called Traveling Mailbox. The service notifies us via email when we receive mail. We log in to see our mail and tell them how we want it handled.

Traveling Mailbox will forward mail anywhere in the world and deposit checks for you. Both of these have small fees attached. We recommend Traveling Mailbox, but there are several companies that provide similar services.

You can learn more about our favorite services and apps in “12 Trustworthy Travel Services and Apps.”

What will you do about cell phones?

When we arrive in a new country, we get a local SIM card that gives us calls and internet data. We use internet data when we are out and about. SIM cards are inexpensive. Our average cost for one SIM card for one month is $20. In our lodgings we have wifi.

Our cell phones are still connected to our AT&T account in the U.S. AT&T offers a plan that allows us to use our AT&T SIM for $10 for 24 hours. We do this when we have to make calls to the U.S. for financial or medical reasons. For talking with friends and relatives, we rely on WhatsApp, Messenger, or Zoom.

How will you handle finances?

The good news is when you sell almost everything, you have very few bills. And everything can be paid online.

Even so, things can slip through the cracks. We found out that we owed our dentist’s office almost $1,000. The office had submitted the charges to our insurance company, and this wasn’t covered. We found out about it because our Chase bank account informed us that our credit had been impacted.

It turned out that the dentist’s office did not have our complete address on file (for the virtual mailbox). They also didn’t have our email addresses, and they only had our U.S. phone numbers, which we aren’t currently using. If it wasn’t for the Chase notification, this could have sat for another year.

What about medical insurance?

When we began traveling, we chose to self-insure because we believe medical costs outside the U.S. are affordable. A case in point: Steve’s ski accident in Bulgaria cost $2,000. This included nine days in the hospital with all tests and medicines and two ambulance rides. You can read about this less-than-ideal experience in “Hospitalized in Bulgaria.”

We had kept our U.S.-based medical insurance with Florida Blue, first through COBRA and then through the Affordable Care Act. We found that they paid almost every foreign claim we submitted.

ACA worked well for us until Steve turned 65 and went on Medicare. Since it won’t cover medical care overseas, and he needed proof of insurance for his Hungarian residence permit, he picked up a policy through SafetyWing.

This is a perfect solution for us, but for someone who doesn’t have ample savings to fall back on, I would definitely recommend travel medical insurance.

Here is an article from The Hartford that summarizes the different types of travel insurance.

And here is information about some of the top travel health companies. 

Check out our take on “Medical Care on the Road.”

A note about other travel insurance

We have trip cancelation and baggage delay coverage through our Chase credit card but wouldn’t buy it.

We always decline trip insurance when booking flights. Of all the flights we have taken, we only missed one when Steve was laid up from his ski accident. The way I look at it, the money we saved by not taking the insurance over the years more than covered the money we lost by not taking that one flight.

One coverage we won’t leave home without is our emergency evacuation policy through Medjet. It covers the cost of transporting us home in case of a medical emergency or transporting our mortal remains. You can add coverage for assistance during a crisis like a natural disaster or an act of terrorism. Medjet offers short-term and annual policies.

What about prescriptions?

Steve and I both take several prescriptions daily. Fortunately, most of them are inexpensive. On our annual returns to the U.S., our doctors write us prescriptions for one year’s worth of each of these. We fill what we can through our insurance and use GoodRx coupons to fill the rest of the inexpensive ones by paying out of pocket.

Unfortunately, we have a few medications that are too expensive to buy out of pocket. When we set out in 2018, we only had enough of these for three months. We found that it is easy to get medications in other countries, and they are nowhere near as expensive as in the U.S. Depending on the medication and which country you are in, you may not even need a prescription.

Initially, we were concerned about carrying so much medicine, but we haven’t had any problems. We make sure that they are all kept in their original bottles. We also asked our doctors to write a letter that lists our medications, what each one is for, and how long we plan to travel.

Once we got into a travel routine, we started ordering our medications quarterly using our U.S.-based insurance. Our daughter holds them for us.

Of course, 2020 had to mess this up too. Since we did not return to the U.S. in December, we did not replenish our supplies. Therefore we had to see a doctor in Budapest and fill our prescriptions here.

Which credit cards will you use?

Our primary card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. It is a VISA card that we’ve been able to use everywhere we have been.

We collect points for every purchase, which we can use at a 25% premium for travel or to pay ourselves back for grocery and restaurant purchases.

We carry one Mastercard and debit cards from two different accounts as backups. Our pickpocketing experience in Barcelona taught us never to carry them together.

How much does it cost to travel full-time?

This can vary greatly. Some travelers spend very little by staying with friends, couch-surfing, volunteering in exchange for accommodations, or staying at hostels. Food costs can be kept low by self-catering or eating street food.

We have chosen to travel at a three-star level. Each year I document our costs. You can read about the past three years here:

Wind and Whim’s 2018 Travel Costs – Europe

Wind and Whim’s 2019 Travel Costs – Latin America

Wind and Whim’s 2020 Travel Costs – Europe

How can you afford to do this?

This is the one question everyone was too polite to ask.

The simple answer is that we saved throughout our entire working lives. We didn’t save so we could retire early or travel full-time. We saved because we knew one day we would retire and need more than our Social Security to live on.

Are we rich? Rich is a relative term. I don’t consider us to be rich, but we have enough money that we don’t have to worry about unexpected bills like Steve’s Bulgarian hospital stay, and we can afford to splurge now and then as we did for our two-week-long Transatlantic cruise.

But we are also sensible and frugal. We love staying in four-star hotels at a two-star price, as we did in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, but we aren’t willing to pay a five-star price for a five-star hotel room.

Lovely hotel room in beige and aqua
Our room at the Iguazu Jungle Lodge in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. All this and a large balcony for $86 per night.

We have a budget that we use as a guide. Sometimes we are under, like during the pandemic, and sometimes over, like in the Galapagos Islands and Peru.

Keep in mind there are oodles of people who travel full-time on a lot less than we do. Many travelers work on the road.

More Full-Time Travel Info

Get even more information about what it is like to travel full-time in these posts:

Is Full-Time Travel Right For You?

What Full-Time Travel Has Taught Us

That’s All, Folks!

I hope this answered some of the questions you have about full-time travel. If there is anything else you are curious about, please leave your question in the comments section.

Also, Steve and I would love to hear your answers to these questions.

Stay safe,
Linda

Featured Photo by Julius Silver on Pixabay.com

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Therme Bucuresti: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

Are you thinking of visiting Bucharest when the pandemic is over? Great! You’ll love it. Along with seeing the Palace of Parliament, Herăstrău Lake and Park, and the Cărturești Carusel bookstore, there is one other place that should be on your list: Therme Bucuresti.

What is Therme Bucuresti?

It is an astonishing wellness center and so much more. It is a place where you can feel like a carefree kid one minute and a pampered adult the next.

Therme Bucuresti is the largest relaxation and entertainment center in Europe. It opened in 2016 and welcomed 1.2 million visitors that year.

It is the first wellness facility of its size to be granted a LEED Platinum Certification for green building.

The thermal water that supplies all of the pools is extracted from 3,000 m below ground. The pool temperatures are maintained at 33 – 36 degrees Celsius (91 – 97 degrees Fahrenheit). We found the water temperature to be perfect.

It is also the largest botanical garden in Romania with over 800,000 plants!

Indoor pool at Therme Bucuresti surrounded by palm trees
The tropics in Bucharest

What Will You Find at Therme Bucuresti?

The best way to understand how much Therme Bucuresti has to offer is to visit its website. Be warned, it can be a bit overwhelming.

Therme Bucuresti is divided into three areas. As a guest, you decide which areas you want to access. Each area has dining options and all offer activities which can be viewed on the website. The three areas are:

Galaxy – this is the only area that allows children of all ages. Here you will find waterslides, a wave pool, and a game center. There is also a pool bar, an indoor/outdoor pool, a sandy beach, and a salt library to keep parents entertained. I am not ashamed to say I spend quite a bit of time on the waterslides.

Indoor pool and large waterslides
Fun, fun, fun – even for big kids like me!

The Palm & The Sands of Therme – This is where you will find another indoor/outdoor pool. The indoor pool has a retracting roof. The outdoor pool has a crazy river. Both have swim-up bars.

You must be at least 17 years old to enter this area, although parents can bring children up to three years old into this area.

The Palm also three mineral pools, a jacuzzi, hydromassage tables. There is a sandy beach with 500 palm trees and 1,500 loungers outside.

Large indoor mineral pools
Mineral pools in The Palms area

Elysiumthis is the wellness area. It features six themed saunas and a cooling calla shower. You can also get massages here. Like the Palms, this area is for people 17 and older.

The Elysium also has an indoor selenium and zinc pool with another swim-up bar.


A large shower in the shape of calla lillies
For a cold water blast after your sauna, visit the calla shower in the Elysium area

Our Experiences

We visited Therme Bucuresti twice in September 2018. Our first visit was for an entire day. We enjoyed it so much we decided to go back for a nighttime visit a week later.

One of the best things about Therme Bucuresti is what a great deal it is, at least for visitors from countries like the United States. Our first visit cost $172 (USD) for the two of us. While not a small amount of money, it is considerably less than what a similar experience would cost in the U.S. Here is a list of what we got for that price:

Access to all three areas
Robe and towel rental
Lunch
Two drinks at the swim-up bar
Two 45 minute massages
One haircut

Not bad for $86 (USD) per person.

A word of warning – if you get a massage, you will be given a skimpy (and I do mean skimpy) paper G-string to wear. Click here if you would like to see a similar version to the ones Steve and I were given.

Our evening visit cost $130 (USD). This included:

Access to all areas
Robe and towel rental
Four drinks
One massage

Even though there were many people there during both our visits, the complex is large enough that it never felt crowded.

A toy hedgehog at a swim-up bar
Hedgie hanging at the swim-up bar

Practical Stuff

Therme Bucuresti is 10 miles north of Bucharest at Calea Bucuresti 1K, Bucuresti, Romania.

There are several ways to get there: by car, taxi, Uber, or by the Therme Bucuresti shuttle bus that leaves from Piata Romana. Here is a link to directions and shuttle bus information.

You can rent a robe and towel when you arrive. As of this writing, the rental is reasonably priced at around  $12.00 (USD).

When you check in you will be given a wrist band. You will use it to open and lock your locker and record your purchases throughout your visit.

A note about shoes: you should bring flip flop style shoes to wear when walking between areas. I had some, but Steve’s were more like a boat shoe. They had a thick white sole. The staff took issue with them even though they had been sold as beach shoes and had never been worn outside. You can also buy slippers at Therme, but we did not do this.

For more information, you can read the Therme Bucuresti FAQ here.

Collage of lounge chairs, lockers, hair dryers, and decor in Therme Bucuresti
A few images of the facilities at Therme Bucuresti

Closing

If you’ve been to Therme Bucuresti, I would love to know what you thought of it.

If you haven’t, I encourage you to visit it if you are anywhere near Bucharest.

Writing this brought back such good memories that I wish I could go there right now. Unfortunately, the pandemic has us grounded in Budapest, Hungary. Maybe once it is safe to travel again, we will arrange a visit to Romania that includes a stop at Therme Bucuresti.

Here is a video by Grounded Life Travel so you can see even more of this beautiful complex.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

P.S. If you are curious about what it cost us to travel in Europe for eight months (including a month in Bucharest) check out Wind and Whim’s 2018 Travel Costs – Europe.

Bye, Bye Bucket List

Barcelona sat right at the top of our bucket list. It was the first city in which Steve and I would spend a month as we began our new life as full-time travelers.

La Sagrada Familia and Park Guell awaited us. We couldn’t wait for the city to cast its spell on us as it had for several friends who spoke of it lovingly and longingly.

So why has this popular destination remained one of our least favorites after three years of travel?

Not the Fastest Start

Maybe it was the slow start. We were new at this whole world traveler thing. And we were on our own. No tour guide to fall back on. We were uncertain about the language, the metro, and the layout of the city. Every day for the first week we ventured a little further away from our apartment. First down the street. Then around the block. Then several blocks away. Weren’t we the great adventurers?

We finally worked up the courage to get on the Metro, not realizing what awaited us.

We knew that Barcelona is the pickpocket capital of the world. And Steve was well aware of the rule that you don’t keep your valuables in your back pocket. So he devised a foolproof plan to keep them safe. He put them in his front pocket. The pickpocket duo that relieved him of his cash, bank cards, and passport was able to circumvent his masterful security. You can read about that experience here.

Despite this setback, we did venture out to experience the magic for ourselves. As expected, La Sagrada Familia was incredible. We loved basking in the rainbow colors from the stained glass windows and marveling at the uniqueness of Antoni Gaudi’s creation. And we got to share it with thousands of other people.

pillars and ceiling detail in La Sagrada Familia
The amazing interior of La Sagrada Familia. Photo by Won Young Park on Unsplash.com.

La Sagrada Familia gets 4.6 million visitors every year (except maybe during a pandemic). That is over 12,000 people every day!

Gaudi’s failed planned community, Park Guell, was equally amazing and equally crowded. 95% of the park is free. Here you can wander along multiple walkways surrounded by greenery which is punctuated with unusual stone columns and porticos.

Unfortunately, you will also be fighting the crowds and trying to avoid trampling the wares of the vendors who take up a large part of the walkway.

The number of visitors to Park Guell is more than double that of La Sagrada Familia. 9 million people visit the park every year. That more than 24,000 visitors per day!

The remaining 5% of the park is the Monumental Zone. You have to pay to enter this area and the number of visitors is limited to 400 per half hour so you have a little breathing room.

Looking over Barcelona from the theater in Park Guell
Part of the theater in the Monumental Zone in Park Guell. Photo by Denise Jones on Unsplash.com.

Pretty much everywhere else we went was crowded except for two places: a little-visited but worthwhile park called Labyrinth de la Horta and Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau, an art nouveau complex that used to be a hospital.

You don’t stroll down La Ramblas, you move with the tide, all while trying not to be pickpocketed. Many people wear their backpacks in front to avoid this fate. And you can expect your metro rides to be up close and personal. If you don’t like crowds and noise, Barcelona is probably not for you.

Barcelona’s popularity has led to resentment and anger from the residents as they watch their city being overrun with tourists and the price of housing skyrocket as apartments are turned into vacation rentals. Perhaps this explains why this is the only city we have visited thus far in which the residents were unfriendly.

We had so looked forward to falling in love with Barcelona, only to be disappointed. Was this a harbinger of things to come?

You can find out more about the pleasures and problems of Barcelona in this post: 6 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Barcelona.

A Positive Turn of Events

After our first three months, which were spent in Spain and France, we needed to leave the Schengen area for at least 90 days. Since we wanted to return to the Schengen area after 90 days we wanted to stay close by. One option was to head north to the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The other was to head east to countries like Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania.

Here is a link to information about the Schengen area and what it means to travelers. Don’t be like us. We didn’t learn about this until three months before we were due to land in Barcelona, followed by two months in Paris. Fortunately, we had only booked 89 nights.

Eastern Europe wasn’t even on our radar before this. Besides being able to name a few major cities there and knowing the myth of Dracula, my knowledge of this part of the world was embarrassingly small.

Despite this, we decided to give Eastern Europe a try, mainly because three months in the U.K and the Republic of Ireland would be quite expensive.

So what did we think of our choice?

We loved it. The three months we spent in Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria were brimming with memorable experiences.

Some Highlights of Eastern Europe
Croatia

Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, is one of Steve’s favorite cities. It has several wonderful museums including the super unique Museum of Broken Relationships, a peaceful Botanical Garden in the middle of the city, and the exquisite Mirogoj Cemetery. It is also close enough to Plitvice Lakes National Park for a day trip.

Waterfall in Plitvice Lakes National Park
One example of the beauty to be found in Plitvice Lakes National Park

In addition to the Museum of Broken Relationship we enjoyed several other museums in Zagreb:

The Croatian Museum of Naive Art – this museum showcases the work of naïve artists of the 20th century. Naive art is art created by a person who was not formally trained.

The Nikola Tesla Technical Museum – this museum has historic vehicles including airplanes, an underground mine tour, and of course exhibits related to electricity.

Tortureum – Museum of Torture – Steve chose to visit this museum while I was at the naive art museum. I think the name says it all. Steve enjoyed his visit.

The Croatian History Museum – Not very large, but interesting. One of the displays that left a lasting impression on me was this sign:

A sign warning of danger from mines in Croatian
The sign reads: Do not approach, in this area is a great mine danger

A t the time of our visit there were still 12,000 signs in Croatia warning of the dangers of 38,000 mines left from the Croatian War of Independence (1991-1995).

The Museum of Illusion – not a must-see, but a fun diversion.

Zagreb has many other museums so you are bound to find a few that pique your curiosity.

You may also enjoy a Croatian Homeland War tour. Ours was three hours long and gave us a fascinating look at the Croatian fight for independence from Yugoslavia from 1991-1995. It included a visit to a tunnel citizens used as a bomb shelter and a stop at the Memorial Centre of the Rocket Attacks on Zagreb 1991/1995.

Romania

We chose to spend a month in Bucharest, Romania’s capital. Here we discovered Herastrau Park (or King Michael I Park), a large park in the center of Budapest. It is half the size of New York’s Central Park and loaded with cool things to see.

Bucharest is also the home of the world’s second-largest building, The Parliamentary Palace. Only the Pentagon is larger.

A visit to the Ceauşescu Mansion brought the dark reign of Nicolae Ceauşescu to life. The mansion is filled with opulent touches the belied the communist beliefs Ceauşescu promoted.

A private theater with upholstered walls
The theater in the Ceauşescu Mansion

Other things to see include Cărturești Carusel, an amazing beautiful bookstore

Interior of the Carturesti Carusel bookstore in Bucharest
The stunning interior of the Carturesti Carusel bookstore

and two distinctly different cemeteries:

Bellu Cemetery – the largest and most famous cemetery in Bucharest covering 54 acres.

Heroes’ Cemetery – this small cemetery of 281 identical graves is not far from Bellu Cemetery. The graves are for demonstrators killed during the 1989 revolution that put an end to communist rule.

On a happier note, Bucharest is a great location from which to visit Transylvania and explore cool castles like Bran Castle and Pele’s Castle.

No visit to Bucharest would be complete without a visit to Therme. This wonderful water complex combines spa features with waterpark features for an affordable, fun-filled, relaxing day.

Here is a video by Grounded Life Travel that will show you all the Therme has to offer.

Bulgaria

I am in love with this country. In 2018 we visited three cities here. Each place has its charm.

One of our favorites was Bulgaria’s second-largest city, Plovdiv. It is a city of seven hills (one now gone as its stones were used to build roads). There are also Roman ruins everywhere you turn and more being discovered all the time.

Byala is a tiny resort town on the Black Sea not far from the larger city of Varna. The peaceful two weeks we spent there after the tourist season had ended have left us with some of our memories.

There were walks on a nearly deserted beach (we did see a few fishermen and nudists), great meals at the Seagull, a restaurant with one of the most enviable settings I’ve ever seen, and the pleasure of falling asleep to the sound of the sea every night.

Boats at dock on the Black Sea
Boats on the Black Sea

Byala is also close to the country’s third-largest city, Varna, to the north, and the resort town of Sunny Beach to the south.

Sofia is the capital, and frankly the only reason we ended up stopping there was to fly out of the airport. We only spent five days there, much of it on the pedestrian Vitosha Boulevard. We loved the architecture and fell in love with a chain restaurant called Happy. The metro stations were clean and modern. We also had a great walking tour that brought the history of the fall of communism to life. You can learn more about this period of history in the Soviet Art Museum.

Front of a Russian Orthodox church in Sofia, Bulgaria
The Sveti Nikolay Mirlikiiski Russian Orthodox Church in Sofia

The Pattern Repeats

These experiences have repeated themselves several times during the three years we’ve been traveling. We felt so fortunate to be able to spend four weeks in the Galápagos Islands, yet that was the only place we have been where we were counting the days until we moved on. You can read about those experiences here.

On the other hand, we visited Cartagena, Colombia in the spring of 2019. At that time we chose not to visit any other Colombian cities. Then we repeatedly heard from fellow travelers how wonderful Medellin was. Yes, that Medellin. The city that not so long ago was plagued by the violence of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel, paramilitary groups, and guerrilla groups. We visited it in the fall of 2019 and we loved it. You can read about our experiences in 10 Things to Love about Medellin, Colombia.

The Lessons We Learned

Preconceived notions mean very little.

This world is huge. The more you see, the more there is to see.

We love exploring large cities, but many of our favorite places are places we had not heard of before we left the U.S. like Cuenca, Ecuador and Byala, Bulgaria.

Any place we visit will leave us richer, even if it is a place we would not return to, even if we are counting the days until we leave.

So bye, bye bucket list. You got us started on this amazing journey.  For that we thank you. Now it’s time to discover awesome places we have not yet heard of.

Stay safe,
Linda

Featured image by Ali Al-Mufti on Unsplash.com.

P.S. Here’s a short article about the limits of a bucket list by AFAR magazine.

Paris’s Musée d’Orsay: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

Ah, Paris! The City of Lights!

What should you do while visiting this fabled city? Climb the Eiffel Tower, peruse great art at the Louvre, stroll along the Seine? Absolutely.

But in addition to the above, there is one more place you shouldn’t miss, the Musée d’Orsay.

What is The Musée d’Orsay?

The Musée d’Orsay was voted the best museum in the world by Trip Advisor’s Traveler’s Choice Award in 2018.

It is a marvel of Beaux-Arts beauty that houses the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art.

Interior of the Musée d’Orsay with a large gold clock
The museum not only houses masterpieces, it is a masterpiece. Photo by Armand Khoury on Unsplash.com.

With works from 1848-1914, the Musée d’Orsay bridges the gap between the works of the Louvre which span a mind-boggling 25 centuries, from the 6th century BC to the end of the 19th century, and the Museum of Modern Art, whose works span from 1905 to the present day.

Silhouettes of three people in front of the clock window in the Musee d’Orsay
The clock window overlooking the Seine. You can see Sacre Coeur in the distance. Photo by Peter Mitchell on Unsplash.com

From Train Station to Art Museum

The building was originally a train station called Gare d’Orsay. It was designed to get visitors to the site of the Universal Exhibition of 1900.

The Gare d’Orsay sat on the left bank of the Seine, across from the Tuileries and kitty-corner from the Louvre. Because of this auspicious location, the exterior was designed to blend in with the existing architecture.

View of part of the Louvre as seen from the top of the Musée d’Orsay
You can see a corner of the Louvre from the balcony of the Musée d’Orsay.

By 1939 the station had become obsolete because of changes in train design. The building was used for various functions including as a mail center during WWII, a theater, and an auction house. Eventually, it was decided that it would become an art museum.

The museum was inaugurated on Dec 1, 1986. Thankfully the beautiful Beaux-Arts style was preserved.

The Louvre vs. Musée d’Orsay

I have been fortunate to visit the Louvre three times and hope to visit it again. I believe that anyone visiting Paris should experience the Louvre at least once. As the world’s largest art museum with a collection that spans many centuries, you are sure to find something that interests you. But as much as I love visiting the Louvre, I enjoy the Musée d’Orsay more. This is why:

1. It is not intimidating. You can find your way around quite easily and take in a large part of the collection in one day.

Musée d’Orsay has 181,000 sq ft. (almost 17,000 sq. m.) of exhibition space while the Louvre has over 4 times as much. Because of its size, I have always felt a little lost at the Louvre.

To see all 35,000 items on display in the Louvre you would have to walk 9 miles. The Musée d’Orsay displays about 3,000 items at a time.

2. It is not as crowded as the Louvre even though it has over 3 million visitors per year, pandemics notwithstanding. The Louvre has over 10 million visitors per year. We visited Musée d’Orsay on a free day and we didn’t experience the cattle car feeling of the Louvre.

3. I can’t get enough of that gorgeous building.

A Few Pieces From the Collection

Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night over the Rhone
Starry Night Over the Rhône by Vincent van Gogh 1888

This is not the most well-known Starry Night, the one with 2/3 of the canvas filled with flowing and swirling stars and sky. That one can be seen in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Here is more information about these two paintings and the song Vincent by Don McLean.

You can listen to Vincent here.

The painting The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte
The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte 1875

One of my favorites, and not because it features shirtless men (really). I love this because of its unique subject.

Portrait of Julie Manet by Pierre August Renoir
Julie Manet by Pierre August Renoir 1887

Another one of my many favorites. Julie was the daughter of artists Berthe Morisot and Eugene Manet, and the niece of Édouard Manet.

Statue of a nude woman sitting with her head bent forward
La Méditerranée by Aristide Maillol. Note the building detail in the background.

Detail of a hand on an arm of a statue
Detail of Oedipus at Colonus by Jean-Baptiste Hugues

A room in the Musee d’Orsay with the Edgar Degas statue Small Dancer Aged 14 in the forefront
Small Dancer Aged 14 by Edgar Degas – Photo by Christian Storz on Unsplash.com

Where is The Musée d’Orsay?

The museum is on the left bank at 1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur, 75007 Paris, France in the 7th arrondissement. The nearest Metro stop is SolférinoMusée d’Orsay.

Links

Click Here are 10 pieces of must-see art in the Musée d’Orsay by Paris Pass.

And click here to plan your trip to the Musée d’Orsay.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

Featured photo by Pierre Blaché on Pexels.com

The Magnificent Estate of Versailles: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

When Steve and I began our full-time travels in 2018 the first two cities we visited were Barcelona and Paris. Talk about setting the bar high.

Between these two cities, three places ruined us for all others:
La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
Versailles (near Paris)
Cemetery Montmartre in Paris

You can read about why we think Cemetery Montmartre is the coolest cemetery in Paris here.

But right now it is my pleasure to share our impressions of The Palace and Estate of Versailles with you.

The Versailles We All Know

In 2005 I visited Paris with my daughter Stephanie as part of a school trip. One of the activities was a tour of the Palace of Versailles.

The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles
The famous Hall of Mirrors

Our tour included the Palace and the Palace Gardens. We marveled at the over-the-top elegance including the hall of mirrors, heard the stories about people using the corners in the palace as restrooms during its heyday, and saw where Marie Antoinette gave birth in front of an audience. Here is an interesting article about royal birthing practices.

Ornate bed chamber in rose and ivory
A bed chamber in the Palace of Versailles.

Then we spent some time in the palace’s gardens before heading back to Paris.

A formal garden seen from above
Our travel buddy Hedgie enjoying a view of the Orangery as seen from the Palace of Versailles

I came away from that experience amazed by the opulence and overwhelmed by the crowds. Little did I know that I had just scratched the surface of Versailles.

Estate of Versailles includes the Palace, the gardens, the park, the Trianon estate, and several buildings in town.  It covers over 800 hectares or almost 2,000 acres.

A Second Look

Flash forward thirteen years to 2018. Steve and I spent a month in Paris as part of our new life as full-time travelers. We first visited Versailles as part of a bicycle tour on a dismal June day.

As we entered the grounds we were surrounded by open fields full a sheep!

A field with trees and sheep
The first thing we saw as we entered the grounds of Versaille was sheep!

We then proceeded to ride through the grounds where we visited the Trianon Estate, viewed several gardens, and enjoyed lunch on the patio at La Flottille.

A menu being looked at by a toy hedgehog
Our travel buddy Hedgie perusing the menu at a restaurant at Versaille.

At the end of our bicycle tour, we saw the Palace of Versailles. It was just as glorious as I remembered and it left a lasting impression on Steve. Every time we have visited a palace or grand home since then he says: “It’s not Versailles”. Indeed, not too many places can match the grandeur and mystique of this amazing building.

A Third Visit

Our tour through the palace during our bicycle tour had been rushed so we decided to go back on our own another day.

After we braved the crowds in the palace once more we spent the rest of the day exploring the grounds. Even after two days of visiting I feel as if we barely got to know it. We hope to one day return to the town of Versailles for an extended time and spend several days exploring the estate.

A goose standing on gravel
This goose was a surprise too.

A (Very) Brief History of Versailles

This phenomenal place began as a simple hunting lodge for King Louis XIII. A small chateau was built on the site in 1624.

The construction of the palace began in 1661 under Louis XIV. The palace and its elaborate gardens were completed in 1710.

In 1687 King Louis XIV had the Grand Trianon Palace built on the palace grounds.

King Louis XV added the Petite Trianon Palace to the grounds in 1768.

In 1783, during the reign of Louis XVI the Queen’s Hamlet (Hameau de la Reine) was built.

The Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I between Germany and the Allies was signed in the Palace of Versaille in 1919.

The Trianon Estate

This section of the estate consists of 3 main areas described below: The Grand Trianon, The Petit Trianon, and The Queen’s Hamlet. The estate grew from the time of Louis XIII through Louis XVI. I find it hard to keep the Louis straight. I wish they had been more original when naming their heirs.

The Grand Trianon

This beautiful creation of pink marble and a type of rock called porphyry is located in the northwest corner of the estate. It was built in 1687 at the request of Louis XIV of France, who was known as The Sun King. He had it built as a place to escape the structures of life in the Palace of Versailles and spend time with his favorite mistress, Marquise de Montespan.

Here are 7 Fascinating Facts about Louis XIV.

The Palace has two wings which each house a royal apartment. They are connected by a colonnade called The Peristyle.

A grand walkway with pink marble columns
The walkway between the two wings of the Grand Trianon.

The furnishings were lost during the French Revolution. They were replaced during the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. Those are mostly what you will see in the palace.

This page on the en.chateauversailles.fr website is full of fascinating information about this palace.

The Grand Trianon Palace in history:

On June 4, 1920, the Trianon Treaty was signed here. The treaty formally ended World War I between most of the Allies of World War I and the Kingdom of Hungary. The result was that Hungary lost 70% of its land and all of its seaports. It remains a source of sorrow and anger for Hungarians a century later.  Learn more about that in the article Hungary: Why is the Trianon Treaty So Controversial? from Kafkadesk.

From 1963 – 1966 the Grand Trianon was restored for use by President Charles de Gaulle.

The Petit Trianon

In the mid-1700s King Louis XV decided to build a chateau in the middle of his gardens. The three-story neoclassical building was completed in 1768. When Louis XV died in 1774 Louis XVI ascended the throne. He gifted the Petit Trianon to his wife, Marie-Antoinette.

The Petit Trianon
The Petit Trianon

The young queen used the Petit Trianon to escape the formality and demands of royal life. It is reported that she was in the garden in October of 1789 when first told of the armed crowd that would force the royal family to Paris during the early part of the French Revolution.

For one year, from 1794-1795, the furniture, artwork, and other valuables were auctioned off.

During the revolution the building was used as a hostel and a tavern, causing it to fall into disrepair. The building was restored by Napoleon I to be used by his sister and by the Empress Marie-Louise.

Learn more about The Petit Trianon here.

The Queen’s Hamlet

A century after The Grand Trianon Palace was built, a model village was added to the Trianon Estate. This village of small, rustic buildings formed a crescent around an artificial lake. It included a working farm that was used for the royal children’s education.

A rustic stone building with a tower
One of the buildings in the Queen’s Hamlet.

The buildings were not built for longevity and suffered from the weather during the French Revolution. From 1810-1812 Napoleon had most of them restored. A few were beyond repair and were demolished.

The hamlet underwent various restoration projects in the 20th century as well. One done in the 1930s was made possible by a donation from John D. Rockefeller.

In 2006 the farm was reconstructed and is currently home to many animals who are looked after by the Foundation for Animal Welfare.

Here is more information about this wonderful hamlet.

And There is Even More!

Did you know that the gardens on the estate boast over 200 statues, making it the largest open-air sculpture museum in the world?

There is also an orangery featuring orange, lemon, pomegranate, palm, and oleander trees. Some of the trees are more than 200 years old. They are housed in the Orangery during the winter and displayed outside in the summer.

There are also groves, which are like little parks in the woods, numerous fountains, and pathways.

Latona’s fountain
Latona’s fountain

As if that weren’t enough, you can visit the Gallery of Coaches in the Great Sables. Here you will marvel at the intricacy of the horse-drawn carriages of the past.

Whoo, That’s a Lot to See

All this information can be overwhelming. One thing is certain, the Estate of Versailles will provide days worth of exploration.

While researching this article I found out how little I know about Versaille’s complex and fascinating history. I have done my best to be accurate. If you find something that is incorrect, kindly let me know. Thank you.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

One Last Thing

While researching this article I discovered a fundraising campaign on the Chateau de Versailles website to replace funds lost because of reduced attendance during the pandemic. If you love Versailles and can afford to help here is the information.

 

Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

In the summer of 2018, Steve and I visited Croatia’s capital city of Zagreb. We loved exploring the various museums, relaxing at Jarun Lake, visiting our first cat café, and strolling through the peaceful Zagreb Botanical Garden. But the most memorable place we visited in the city was The Museum of Broken Relationships. To date, it is the most unique museum we have visited. 

The museum is a varied collection of items that at one time played a part in a relationship. Each item comes with a short story about the relationship.

A Brief History

The museum is the no-longer-in-love-child of two Zagreb based artists, film producer Olinka Vištica, and sculptor Dražen Grubišić. When their four-year relationship came to an end in 2003 they joked about opening a museum to display the artifacts of their relationship. In 2006 they started collecting items and stories related to their friends’ break-ups. 

From 2006 through 2010 the collection was displayed in various cities around the world. During its tour, it collected more artifacts. In 2010 the collection got a permanent home in Zagreb’s first privately owned museum.

An Award

In 2011 the museum received the Kenneth Hudson Award. This award is given out by the European Museum Forum to recognize unusual, daring, and controversial exhibits that challenge common perceptions of the role of museums in society.

The judging panel had this to say about the museum:

“The Museum of Broken Relationships encourages discussion and reflection not only on the fragility of human relationships but also on the political, social, and cultural circumstances surrounding the stories being told. The museum respects the audience’s capacity for understanding wider historical, social issues inherent to different cultures and identities and provides a catharsis for donors on a more personal level.”

A Reason to Visit

If for no other reason, the uniqueness of this museum is a great reason to visit. History, art, and science museums can be found in virtually every city. Not so with relationship museums. You may have a chance to see a collection like this elsewhere, but don’t count on it.

There was a Museum of Broken Relationships in Los Angeles, but as of this writing, it is permanently closed. And from March 2019 through March 2020 the York Castle Museum in the United Kingdom had a temporary exhibit.

You should visit it because it’s fun, it’s sad, and it’s a little weird. You can’t begin to anticipate the things you will see here. I guarantee at least one or two of them will remain with you long after your visit.

A word of warning: even though we did take our travel buddy Hedgie, you shouldn’t assume this is appropriate for children. Based on what we saw I would rate it PG-13.

Here are a few examples of the things you will see:

I find this one particularly memorable because I can’t imagine why anyone would want to tear the legs off of a caterpillar, even a toy one.

But Wait, There’s More

The majority of the displays have to do with the death of romantic relationships. But there is one section that deals with the end of non-romantic relationships. These displays included many heartbreaking letters of people wondering why a parent had left them. You might want to bring some tissues.

Where to Find the Museum

The museum is at Ćirilometodska ul. 2, 10000, Zagreb, Croatia. Get all the information you need here.

Safe and happy traveling,

Linda

Featured image: Hedgie in one of the display items.